The Automotive News Industry Leader of the Year for 2005 is the one top Detroit auto executive who hasn't spent much time in the spotlight -- or on the hot seat -- over the past 12 months.
Hot-selling vehicles -- rear-drive cars and minivans with stowaway seats -- have been the stars of the Chrysler group and the bedrock of a good year for Dieter Zetsche. This year also is the second in a row that Automotive News has named Zetsche the top CEO for North America.
Products such as the Chrysler 300 sedan get most of the attention. But Zetsche and his executive team have scored several other victories in the past year:
Most notably, the Chrysler group is grabbing market share. The overwhelming success of the Chrysler 300 and the company's resurgence in minivan sales are driving that growth.
Through the first six months of 2005, Chrysler Division gained 0.6 percentage points of U.S. market share, to 4.0 percent. Overall, the Chrysler group held a 13.9 percent share of the market through the first half of 2005. In the year-ago period, it had 13.5 percent.
And the Chrysler group is making money. It posted a $327 million operating profit in the first quarter. At the same time, DaimlerChrysler's prestigious Mercedes Car Group posted a $1.24 billion loss. Mercedes' efforts to overhaul the Smart brand accounted for most of that loss.
The Chrysler group expects to keep the momentum with the just-launched 2006 Dodge Charger sedan. Waiting in the wings are the Jeep Commander - a larger version of the Grand Cherokee - and the small-wagon replacement for the Dodge Neon.
Zetsche faces challenges. The Grand Cherokee, redesigned for the 2005 model year, has had a so-so start. And the Chrysler group must replace its mid-sized cars for the 2007 model year. But a rising share of a stable market at a time when Japanese automakers also are increasing their market shares is a testament to the power of Chrysler's designs.
The drive to make those products unique flows from the top. That's why Dieter Zetsche is the Automotive News Industry Leader of the Year.
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