Management changes at DaimlerChrysler AG will create a new era in the relationship between the Chrysler group's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., and DaimlerChrysler AG in Stuttgart, Chrysler dealers say.
Dieter Zetsche, the former Daimler-Benz executive who led Chrysler's return to profitability and shaped its product strategy through the rest of this decade, is a knowledgeable and powerful ally who will lead DaimlerChrysler beginning Jan. 1.
Zetsche's elevation "can't help but help us," says Ken Zangara, owner of Zangara Dodge in Albuquerque, N.M. "He knows what we need. He knows the market."
John Schenden, chairman of the Chrysler Jeep National Dealer Council and owner of Denver Pro Chrysler Jeep in Denver, says: "You will now see a better integration of the Mercedes and Chrysler groups because nobody understands the Chrysler group better than Zetsche."
Ken Levy, a former Chrysler public relations vice president who left the company 18 months ago, calls Zetsche's promotion "the best thing that can happen to Chrysler. Is he going to turn his back on them? No way. He will be a big ally of Chrysler, and he knows what Chrysler needs."
In contrast, the last time a North American was running the Chrysler group, communications between Auburn Hills and Stuttgart were strained.
In the early days of the DaimlerChrysler marriage, CEO Juergen Schrempp failed to find much synergy between his new American acquisition and the traditional Daimler-Benz. Stuttgart responded by leaving Chrysler largely on its own. Most of the Chrysler members were dropped from the DaimlerChrysler management board.
In 1999, DaimlerChrysler co-chairman Robert Eaton fired Chrysler President Tom Stallkamp. The company replaced Stallkamp with Chrysler sales chief Jim Holden.
Holden found relations with Stuttgart frustrating. He complained privately that Schrempp wouldn't even answer his phone calls.
Chrysler's sales and profits stumbled badly. Publicly, Schrempp backed Holden until abruptly firing him and replacing him with Zetsche in November 2000.
With Zetsche as the big boss in Stuttgart, Tom LaSorda, who becomes Chrysler CEO on Jan. 1, is likely to get his calls answered.
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