TURIN -- The man who successfully rescued the near-dead Lancia marque has a new, broader challenge: to turn around the Fiat brand.
As Fiat brand's new commercial director, De Meo has about six months to prepare the introduction of Fiat's new large-segment model, the New Large, which is due next summer.
De Meo must also successfully launch the third-generation Punto small-segment car, the most crucial model in Fiat Auto's turnaround, in less than a year's time.
De Meo, 37, was appointed Fiat brand commercial director this month. He is replaced at Lancia by Antonio Baravalle, 39, previously marketing director of Alfa Romeo. Fiat, Alfa and Lancia are the brands that make up Fiat Auto.
De Meo is now responsible for more than 70 percent of Fiat Auto volumes. His new role represents an internal promotion of a young manager with broad international experience. De Meo worked for Renault in Italy and France from 1992 to 1997, then Toyota Europe before joining Fiat in 2002.
At Lancia, De Meo oversaw the successful launch of the Ypsilon entry-premium model.
Lancia was planning 90,000 to 100,000 units a year of the Y's replacement, but it received 112,000 orders in the first 12 months of sales.
Lancia plans to sell about 125,000 Ypsilons this year, up from 101,000 units in 2003. The brand expects sales to reach 130,000 units in 2005.
To keep Lancia's momentum, De Meo pushed for the brand to make versions of the Ypsilon with two-tone paint. Unveiled at the Paris auto show in September and now on sale, the Lancia B-Kini version is offered in ivory and amaranth or ivory and brown.
The strong start of the new Lancia Musa small minivan also will help the brand's recovery.
"We opened the Musa order book at the end of August and by late September we had already collected 5,000 dealer orders," said De Meo at the Paris show.
Lancia was originally planning 10,000 units of the Musa this year and 30,000 units in 2005.
The Musa is an upscale version of the Fiat Idea. The Musa costs E15,950 to E20,450 compared with E13,550 to E18,700 for the Idea.
High trim levels
De Meo hopes the Musa -- like the new Ypsilon -- will benefit from higher-than-expected transaction prices.
"For the Ypsilon, we had planned the entry-level version to cover 27 percent of sales," De Meo said. "It is now at 3 percent and the average transaction price is 30 percent higher than what we predicted."
The entry-level Y models at one point represented almost half of the model's volume. The top trim version of the Musa currently covers 70 percent of customer orders.
Lancia was fast becoming a domestic-only brand in Italy. Last year Lancia sold 100,983 passenger cars but only 13.5 percent of these were sold outside Italy, including 13,675 units in western Europe and 423 in the rest of the world.
In its best years, at the end of the '80s, Lancia sold more than 30 percent of its cars outside Italy.
A Milan native who is married and has 6-year-old twins, De Meo earned a degree in business administration from the city's prestigious Bocconi University School of Management.