Eberhardt leaves Chrysler group
Sales exec to move to Mercedes-Benz dealership
Joe Eberhardt, 43, will take a management position in an unspecified Mercedes-Benz dealership, the automaker said.
Eberhardt had become a flashpoint for dealer anger over unassigned cars the factory was making without orders from dealers. Vehicles piled up on dealership lots this year, even though dealers say they repeatedly warned about overproduction. Chrysler last week instituted dealer cash incentives ranging as much as $7,000 a vehicle.
The crisis peaked in June when two key sales executives -- Gary Dilts, 56, vice president of U.S. sales, and Raymond Fisher, 53, vice president of sales, service and parts operations -- quit. Dilts and Fisher were widely liked by dealers. Dealers felt the two listened, even when they did not agree. Many dealers blamed Eberhardt for their departures.
Eberhardt will run an open Mercedes-Benz dealer point, according to Chrysler spokesman Jason Vines. During the early 1990s, Eberhardt was general manager of Mercedes-Benz Manhattan, which is owned by Mercedes-Benz USA. Vines couldn't say whether Eberhardt would remain as an employee of DaimlerChrysler in his new role.Vines declined to specify what dealership Eberhardt will be involved with or precisely when he will leave.
Vines said Chrysler has not named a successor and has no timetable for naming one. Marketing, sales and service executives will report to Chrysler group CEO Tom LaSorda, he said.
Dieter Zetsche, chairman of DaimlerChrysler AG and the man who appointed Eberhardt in 2003 to the job he just left, said in a statement: "Joe's deep understanding of the automotive industry and his proven leadership will continue to serve the company well as he moves back to the retail side."
But Eberhardt's marketing touch went cold this year. Dealers balked at buying vehicles from the company's so-called "sales bank." Several major sales efforts, including the "Dr. Z" ad campaign featuring Zetsche, failed to deplete those inventories.
An employee price incentive in August also fizzled. Inventories at Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep stores soared to more than 100 days.
As tensions rose, Eberhardt got into several strident encounters with dealers at meetings. Dealers say he blamed them for not doing more to sell cars. But they claim they could not afford to buy more without jeopardizing their businesses.
Some dealers said Eberhardt had a thankless job moving all those cars the dealers never ordered.
One Detroit-area Chrysler group dealer who declined to be identified, said: "He didn't seem to have any compassion or concern for the dealers. But he was given a bad horse to ride. In his defense, he was saddled with a pretty insurmountable task."
John Schenden, owner of Denver's Pro Chrysler-Jeep and a former national Chrysler-Jeep dealer council chairman: "He's a smart automobile guy and he will do well."
Eberhardt joined Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart in 1982 as a student. After his stint in Manhattan, he rejoined the company in 1995. In 1999 he became president and CEO of DaimlerChrysler UK, where he led a controversial effort to restructure the Mercedes dealer body.
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