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Operational, Alfa focus for new Fiat Chrysler boss

Italian push: Incoming Fiat Chrysler Group Australia president and CEO Pat Dougherty said the Alfa Romeo brand will go upmarket and provide the company with growth in the coming years.

New FCA Australia chief to identify ‘gaps’ in the business and push Alfa Romeo

Fiat logo16 Dec 2014

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles Australia’s new president and chief executive Pat Dougherty will focus on improving aftersales service and building the Alfa Romeo brand as he seeks to capitalise on the group’s burgeoning sales and market presence Down Under.

Mr Dougherty started in the position on December 1 and replaces Veronica Johns, who resigned in October after 18 months in the job, citing personal reasons.

Mr Dougherty, who has signed on for three years’ tenure, comes to the role during a period of massive growth for the Italian-American car-making giant, particularly for its Jeep SUV brand.

Jeep sales are up 38.2 per cent year on year, with 27,574 units shifted to the end of November, making it the 12th best-selling brand in Australia so far this year.

Overall year-to-date sales for its stable of brands that as well as Jeep includes Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Chrysler and Dodge is 38,409, which is about 1300 units more than eighth-placed Subaru.

Speaking with local media in Melbourne last week, Mr Dougherty said his job was to act as a link between Australia and the company’s global head office in Italy, and added that one of his first tasks will be to identify any “gaps” in the business that need addressing.

“We have plenty of qualified Australians that can do the job, he said. “The reality is I am the connector. I have to connect the people and the systems and the processes to build this up and get it world-class. And so that’s why I am here.

“For us there are so many processes that we do, all the way from ordering and planning our vehicle production which is not automated all the time. We want to automate our systems.

“From a service and parts standpoint, we are a one-warehouse operation in Melbourne and that may not be the optimal situation. Maybe we want to look at expanding different things.”

Mr Dougherty’s most recent role in FCA was as vice-president of the company’s parts and service division, Mopar, and he said that improving aftersales service and delivery would also be a top priority early on.

“I think Ford and Toyota are saying they refer to their customers as ‘guests’, like a hotel-type situation. We are trying to build that same kind of philosophy or environment,” he said.

“If you have a service issue with an expensive vehicle – obviously vehicles are more expensive in this market, for example a high-end Jeep or our future Alfa product – how do we manage that process so it is easy and simple for the consumer and they feel like you have respected their time and taken care of them when they had a problem.

“Those are the things we are going to try and build. Those are the same things that are going in other markets around the world for us. How do you make a complete package around the purchase that takes care of the customer on the service side as well.”

Mr Dougherty said one of his first tasks would be getting to know his new team followed by connecting with the dealer network to identify any markets in Australia that require attention.

“I want to understand our team, what we have and don’t have, and where the market stands,” he said.

“I know what is out there in terms of other regions of the company. I know what systems and processes are in place for the most part.

“Assuming a lot of the groundwork was laid by Veronica (Johns) and Clyde (former chief Clyde Campbell), there was some work being done to try and build these systems and this infrastructure and where it hasn’t been built I want to connect the dots and make it happen.

“I need to get out and see the dealers and find out what’s going on in their markets. At first glance, Melbourne and Sydney are doing well but markets outside there, they might have different economics.” While Jeep is recording record sales results in Australia, Mr Dougherty said the brand the company will push here in the coming years is Alfa Romeo.

Mr Dougherty said FCA’s Australian arm would follow the global strategy revealed in May that identifies Alfa as a key brand in its overall growth plans.

Confirming that Alfa Romeo would be going “upscale”, Mr Dougherty said the model range expansion beyond the current Giulietta and MiTo hatches into more premium fare would help “get some of that energy back behind that brand here in this market”.

“The product that we will be coming to market with, which we have not seen, is going to be pretty special – that good Italian heritage, a lot of passion behind the brand, and good performance. The styling, the heritage, the performance of Alfa Romeo is going to be strong and this is a very important market for Alfa Romeo.” As a part of the €5 billion ($A7.5b) investment in the brand from its parent company, future Alfa product confirmed earlier this year includes two new compact offerings, a mid-size sedan, a large sedan, two SUVs and a sportscar by 2018.

Mr Dougherty said he believed Alfa could again be a success in Australia because of the strong demand for premium European models in the busy new-car market.

“When I look at numbers, the early numbers tell me that there is a good opportunity for us.” Alfa sales in Australia are 15.1 per cent ahead of where they were to the end of November last year, with 2434 units shifted.

The FCA brand that struggles most in Australia, Dodge, is also in Mr Dougherty’s sights, with the Michigan native saying he did not believe the iconic American brand should be discontinued here, despite its sole offering of the Journey crossover.

“I have asked a few questions in my first few days here about Dodge but there is no view of we are in or we are out. There are some things there that are interesting I think.”

When pushed on whether Dodge would remain a North America-only proposition or if production would be expanded to right-hand drive, Mr Dougherty highlighted some new plants that could potentially build right-hook models.

“I can’t answer for Dodge specifically. We have taken over a Fiat plant in India that we are going to ramp up to do some different production for the company. That doesn’t mean we are sourcing anything from there yet but we have a plant there,” he said.

“We have a plant in China that we are building as well. We have a big broad global view that says if we are really going to be global we have to invest. In order for all of these plants to be successful, we are going to have more right-hand drive.

“Now driving that down to the specifics of what brands? I can’t tell you yet. I wish I could.”

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