Chrysler has replaced Laura Soave with Timothy Kuniskis as head of the Fiat brand for North America effective immediately. "Laura Soave has left the company and will pursue other interests," the automaker said in a statement without elaborating.Kuniskis was most recently director of both the Chrysler brand and Fiat brand product marketing. The move is effective immediately.Kuniskis now heads Fiat sales, marketing, dealer network and service. The 500 Abarth was launched at the Los Angeles show this week.
"Tim brings broad expertise and leadership in dealer operations and marketing where he has been already working with the team to shape the direction of the Fiat brand," said Chrysler chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne in the statement.
"...much of his immediate focus will be working with the dealer body where his fresh perspective from the operational side, as well as that on the commercial side, will begin the brand's next chapter."
Kuniskis joined Chrysler in 1992.
Recent US media reports have said that sales of the 500 - built in a Chrysler plant in Mexico for North America - have been slower than expected.The website detroitbureau.com said Chrysler had originally hoped to sell as many as 50,000 500s in North America annually. But, so far, sales have barely topped 16,000 and were less than 2,000 in October.“Fiat brand is entering a new chapter and it has been deemed appropriate to entrust Tim with the responsibility for the marque in North America,” Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri told the website, noting the dealer network had taken longer to develop than planned.Fiat now has its full complement of dealers, 130, while the awareness of the Fiat brand also has been growing, he added.The maker had initially tried to downplay the shortfall in Fiat 500 sales, insisting it was largely the result of not having enough dealers in place.The website noted that industry analysts had been questioning the viability of Fiat’s return to the US. Chrysler has required dealers to set up stand-alone showrooms for the brand rather than sharing facilities with other Chrysler brands - Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep.That, the report added, might have been more viable had Fiat also moved ahead with plans to re-launch Alfa Romeo in the US but that has been pushed back several years by Marchionne due to his concerns about having the right products in place for the American market.Soave was named to head Fiat in spring 2010, reintroducing a brand last sold in the US in 1979.Edmunds.com's Inside Line said: "It was a tough assignment given that Fiat would have only one model to sell and it expected to do it through a brand new network of stand-alone dealers. The rollout of those dealers didn't go as quickly as planned, so it's no surprise that sales suffered."