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Fiat Chrysler makes history with new appointment

Business as usual: Newly appointed Fiat Chrysler Asia Pacific chief executive Veronica Johns says she will carry on with plans put in place two years ago.

Leadership swap places first Australian female in car-maker’s top spot

29 Apr 2013

UPDATED: 30/04/2013FIAT Chrysler has made history by becoming the first car-maker to appoint an Australian woman to head its local operations.

The company has announced that long-serving sales director Veronica Johns will take over from former chief executive of Fiat Chrysler Asia Pacific, Clyde Campbell, who will leave the group to head up a New Zealand-based distributorship with business partner Neville Crichton.

“Ms Johns was the outstanding candidate in the search for a new CEO,” the car-maker said in a statement outlining the May 1 boardroom handover.

“She has enjoyed a long and successful career with the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands spanning some 14 years. Her knowledge of the Australian market and her achievements as Fiat Chrysler Group Australia’s director of sales made her the obvious choice to succeed Mr Campbell.”

Speaking exclusively to GoAuto shortly after her appointment was announced, Ms Johns said little would change under her leadership.

“I’ve been part of Chrysler Group for a very long time, but since Clyde came online we started the new direction of the group maintaining the Fiat and Alfa brands, the overall direction of the business is that we want to be a serious player in the Australian market,” she said.

“We want to continue to delight customers with great product and great experiences – none of that will change.”

She said there will be areas that the car-maker would need to focus on to “get there better”, but the direction the group would head under her stewardship “would continue”.

“A lot of us have been around for a very long part of the journey ... and we discuss and vote as a board, so everyone has owned the direction of this business and will continue to do so,” Ms Johns said.

However, Ms Johns is also overseeing a significant management restructure, hiring former Skoda Australia director Matthew Wiesner as chief operating officer and director of sales, and former Nissan Australia executive general manager of sales and marketing Tim Stuckey as director of aftersales.

She also announced today that she had appointed a new director of marketing, media/advertising industry executive Mark McCraith, and had split the company’s marketing division into two areas: brand strategy and creative, and digital architecture.

Former marketing chief Sam Tabart will be retained as a digital media consultant.

“It will be a very exciting time ahead for us,” said Ms Johns, who will continue with plans to introduce a range of new and facelifted models to the Australian market.

“The new models that we’re bringing in (for Chrysler Group products) are mainly model refreshes ... but Fiat and Alfa is where the business is going to see the most growth for us.

"We took it over on May 1 last year, and we weren’t really able to do anything with the network until February 1 because of the dealer agreements we had in place.

“We’ve obviously got a plan on where we want to take these brands, and so it has really taken all that time to get these new models built in the factory and getting them to where we can launch them to the Australian people.”“It all starts to happen this quarter and next quarter for us,” Ms Johns said..”

It will get really exciting from June when we are launching a very exciting 500 model.”

Part of this process is ensuring that Fiat Chrysler does not become a brand known for its niche models, Ms Johns said.

“The only reason Fiat was known for its niche cars was that they didn’t have the model line-up.

“So if you wanted a Fiat 500, you were someone who really wants one – we’re not really talking to a lot of people.

“So with the new models we have coming through, we will start talking to a lot more people,” she said.

She said an example of how the car-maker would broaden its appeal was the introduction of a front-wheel-drive version of the Jeep Patriot compact SUV to sell alongside the all-wheel-drive version.

“With Patriot we were in a very competitive compact SUV segment and we couldn’t compete, because we had a traditional 4x4 and didn’t have a 4x2 in that segment.

“Bringing that (4x2 model) in turned the Patriot from being a niche compact SUV into a competitor within its own right.

“It’s basically the methodology we will use to take Fiat and Alfa forward.”

The only model the brand expects to be a niche player is the Alfa Romeo 4C, the compact rear-drive two-seater due in Australia early next year.

Ms Johns said the spill at the top of Fiat Chrysler’s Australian operations was brought about by Mr Campbell’s decision in February to buy into the New Zealand operations, a privately owned company owned by jointly by Mr Campbell and Ateco Automotive executive chairman Neville Crichton.

As GoAuto has reported, the Auckland-based Fiat Chrysler NZ Limited officially takes over distribution of the Italian and American brands on May 1.

“He can’t continue to do both (running the Australian operations and the New Zealand distributorship),” she said.

“When he’s identified himself to be the (general distributor) for New Zealand, then you can’t have two jobs ... so you give up one.

“Obviously for Clyde this is an enormous opportunity for him that he wants to pursue.”

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