Fiat Auto has turned to a man who drove sales increases at Toyota, Audi and Seat to help it rebuild market share.
Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz joins Fiat Auto S.p.A. this month as head of sales and marketing. The charismatic 56-year-old executive resigned suddenly from Toyota Motor Europe in June.
The Spaniard joined Toyota in February 1998 and pushed sales in Europe past Nissan for the first time while executive vice president for sales, marketing and aftersales.
At Fiat, Diaz Ruiz replaces Carlo Sinceri, 54, who will be assigned other duties in the company.
The energetic Diaz Ruiz is known for his ability to motivate staff and dealers. At Fiat he will be asked to do what others before him failed to achieve: Restore market share in Europe and, especially, in Italy.
Though demand for the new Punto is strong - Fiat reports 630,000 dealer orders since its launch last autumn - group market share from January to the end of June in Western Europe grew just marginally, from 10.3 percent to 10.6 percent. In Italy, share rose from 36.2 percent to 36.8 percent, but it still is far from Fiat's 38 percent to 40 percent target and well below the levels of just a few years ago.
This is Fiat's second attempt to name a foreigner as sales and marketing head. In January 1995, Fiat hired Renault executive Loic Caperan, who left in January 1999 and was replaced by Sinceri.
'There is no question about Diaz Ruiz's qualities,' said a Fiat Auto executive who asked not to be named. 'The problem is whether he will be given the freedom and power to have a real impact on the Fiat Auto culture. That was not the case with Caperan.'
In a recent interview, Diaz Ruiz described his greatest achievement as 'being able to fit into different business cultures - Spanish, German, American, Japanese.'
Diaz Ruiz joined Ford Motor Co. in 1973 and spent 10 years in various assignments at Ford of Britain, Ford of Spain and Ford of Europe.
He was so highly regarded at Seat that in 1993, the company moved him to Ingolstadt, Germany, where he helped bring about the Audi brand renaissance. He reorganized the dealer body, changed the brand's advertising strategy and led a sales revival.