For new Chrysler brand chief, Super Bowl ad was defining moment

Chrysler's famous "Imported from Detroit" commercial that aired during the Super Bowl has helped Saad Chehab land the biggest job of his automotive career.

Chehab, 44, was promoted Thursday to CEO of the Chrysler and Lancia brands. When the appointment becomes effective Sept. 1, he will succeed Olivier Francois, who was named to head Fiat brand.

Chehab, who is now head of group advertising at Chrysler, will be part of the new Fiat Group Executive Council named by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. Chehab was lured by Marchionne to Chrysler from Ford Motor Co. after a July 2009 chat over a cup of coffee turned into a passionate exchange of ideas.

His appointment was a nice surprise in a management shuffle that had several of them.

I spoke to Chehab in San Francisco at the NADA convention the night the Super Bowl commercial broke, featuring Detroit rapper Eminem. Chehab spoke about how Chrysler, along with the Wieden+Kennedy ad agency, wanted to capture the story of a downtrodden city with a glorious history that still had much to offer the world. Chehab clearly reveres the city where he has lived for many years.

The commercial "matches our story, which is Chrysler and Detroit," he said. "We thought this resonates not just in this state but in many states that suffered under various kinds of challenges."

Many parts of the country had lost faith in things made in Detroit, and Chrysler wanted to show "you no longer have to cross oceans to get what you can have from these shores," he said.

In his new job, Chehab will be crossing the ocean regularly, overseeing the ongoing integration of the Chrysler and Lancia brands that began under his predecessor Francois.

His promotion is proof there's plenty of room for creative types in Sergio's world.

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