Why Diaz' departure from Chrysler wasn't a surprise

Fred Diaz, left, who left as manager of the Ram brand on Friday, chats with Philadelphia dealer Gary Barbera after the Chrysler Group make meeting in February 2012. Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

On paper, Fred Diaz got a promotion Friday when it was announced that he had agreed to become Nissan Motor Co.'s vice president of Nissan Division sales and marketing.

But in the real world, the 47-year-old now-former head of Chrysler Group's Ram brand and of Chrysler de Mexico likely got his life back with his new job -- with maybe a few extra years tacked onto the backend as a bonus.

All auto executives work hard, and in a global marketplace, work long hours. But Chrysler's top executives have been running the physical equivalent of a sprint for nearly four years -- first to survive, then to turn a profit, and finally to grow.

Since 2009, they have succeeded almost beyond all expectations. I say "almost" because for four years CEO Sergio Marchionne has driven his management team like a Wells-Fargo wagon through a canyon full of thieves, and Diaz is so far the only horse to escape the harness.

I have never questioned Diaz's love of Chrysler or its Ram brand, or even his commitment to see them succeed. They were evident in every conversation I ever had with him, and even moreso in his heartfelt and spontaneous displays of emotion when the Ram 1500 was named North American Truck of the Year in January.

But I also think Diaz, and some of his fellow executives, have begun to realize that living only for Chrysler, by definition, does not have a happy ending. They wear this realization on their prematurely-aging faces, even as their cell phones ring to schedule another weekend meeting.

Diaz might have been the first top Chrysler Group executive to slip the reigns and voluntarily depart for another automaker, but I'd bet even money he won't be the last.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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