DETROIT -- A shuffling of top executives last week leaves Fiat Chrysler with one champion for cars in the U.S. and another for pickups, crossovers and SUVs -- instead of multiple brands fighting for attention and limited marketing resources.
The changes in the U.S. lineup also may shed light on the competition to succeed CEO Sergio Marchionne as head of operations in North America and possibly even as head of the parent company.
Dodge brand head Tim Kuniskis, 48, adds responsibility for the Chrysler and Fiat brands and was appointed to parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Group Executive Council, the global automaker's highest management body. In that capacity, he will serve as the champion for cars.
Jeep brand head Mike Manley, 51, will continue to oversee Jeep and maintain responsibility for FCA's Asia Pacific region. But he also gets oversight of the company's pickups and SUVs, including Ram. Bob Hegbloom, 51, will continue to oversee Ram on a day-to-day basis but will report to both Manley and Marchionne.
North American sales chief Reid Big-land adds fleet sales responsibility in the region. Bigland, 48, also is head of FCA Canada and the North American head of the Alfa Romeo brand.
Manley and Bigland are both members of the Group Executive Council.
Day-to-day operations of fleet and small business sales will fall to Jason Stoicevich, 36, who will keep oversight of FCA's California business center but no longer will head the Fiat brand in North America.
Al Gardner, 51, passes responsibility for the Chrysler brand to Kuniskis but will continue as head of network development for FCA's 2,600 U.S. dealerships.
An FCA source said the management realignment has been under discussion for a year. The shuffle is intended to prevent product overlap as the company enters the heavy development cycle envisioned in the five-year plan FCA showed in May 2014.
For example, a Wrangler-based pickup -- long sought by Manley -- is less likely to poach from Ram 1500 sales if both projects are directed by the same person.
Until now, every Ram chief since the brand was created in 2009 has maintained that any pickup coming from the automaker should be a Ram. Manley also provides Ram with a voice on the group's global council.
Marchionne does not appear to be going anywhere soon. In an August interview with Automotive News, the 63-year-old -- who heads both the parent company and FCA US -- said he could serve as CEO for another five years "if you push me," but "beyond that, I ain't gonna do it, and I don't want to."
But he said it is "essential" for him to develop a "leadership class" to one day replace him -- a class made up of what he calls "kids" that not only includes Bigland, Manley and Kuniskis, but FCA CFO Richard Palmer, 48.
The CEO said he spends six full weeks a year poring over the job performance of FCA managers.
"I've got a crew of kids that are growing properly," Marchionne said. "I think I will still be afraid today to let them [go] alone into the woods because they'll come back with a ... bloody nose and no legs, but there's going to be a point where I'm going to have to let them go into the woods alone and see what they can find."
Kuniskis has led Dodge through an era of planned sales decline as the unit reabsorbs the SRT high-performance line and concentrates on delivering power and performance across a smaller lineup.
A genuine gearhead who has raced dragsters and motorcycles, Kuniskis was director of Chrysler brand marketing in 2011 when he was picked to salvage the U.S. relaunch of the Fiat brand. He took over Dodge in April 2013. The Rochester, N.Y., native rose through the field ranks after joining Chrysler in 1992.
Manley, a low-key Brit, has headed Jeep since 2009 and overseen a remarkable surge in growth for the brand.
A manager at several dealerships in England earlier in his career, he is one of the few FCA executives who maintains a travel schedule as brutal as his boss's. Manley regularly flies back and forth from Asia as well as attends Group Executive Council meetings around the globe.
Bigland is an intense though affable Canadian with a body builder's physique and Marchionne's ear. He is credited with driving sales -- and lifting FCA's dealers to record profitability.
The former president of Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. preceded Kuniskis and Hegbloom at Dodge and Ram and now heads the Alfa Romeo brand in North America, while also serving as head of sales and head of FCA Canada.
An outlier in the succession discussion is Palmer, a Brit, who never has run a brand for FCA and lives in London. But like Marchionne, he is a financial whiz.
He started at Fiat in 2003 through its Comau manufacturing equipment unit. Marchionne relies on Palmer to keep the company on firm financial footing and to tamp down any excesses that might eat into profitability.