Fiat on Monday appointed Alfredo Altavilla chief operating officer to accelerate the turnaround of its unprofitable European operations.
Altavilla, 49, advised CEO Sergio Marchionne during Fiat's successful 2009 takeover of Chrysler. He replaces Gianni Coda, who is retiring.
Altavilla will continue to coordinate business development activities for Fiat, but is stepping down as CEO of Iveco, the commercial truck division of Fiat Industrial.
Altavilla will try to transform Fiat's underused Italian factories into an export hub for new Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Jeep models.
"(Marchionne) is basically dedicating the most important manager he has to this area," said Pierluigi Bellini, an industry analyst for IHS automotive. "That shows how important it is to fix Europe."
Altavilla, the son of an Italian car dealer, is well-respected in Europe for his international experience as well as his ability to structure acquisitions and joint ventures.
"Alfredo was always there as a fire-fighter for Fiat and made a name for himself when it came to getting the Chrysler deal done," said Erich Hauser, auto analyst for Credit-Suisse. "The fact that he's now responsible for (Fiat's European division) shows that Marchionne is serious about fixing the business."
Hauser also said that Altavilla's deal-making experience could be an asset for Fiat if it seeks partnerships with other automakers as it restructures.
Fiat, like most automakers in Europe, has been losing money. New car sales have fallen for five years in a row. In Italy, Fiat's home country, new car sales in Italy have dropped to their lowest level since 1979.
Fiat earned 286 million euros ($370 million) in the third quarter ending Sept. 30. But without the profits generated by Chrysler, of which Fiat owns 58.5%, Fiat would have lost 281 million euros ($364 million).
Fiat has resorted to rotating layoffs at its plants, cutting capital investment and delaying vehicle launches as the production capacity at its plants has plummeted to 45%.
The turnaround calls for a number of new Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Jeep models to be assembled in Italy over the next four years.
"I want to express my sincere appreciation for the unwavering dedication and service to Fiat and Fiat Industrial that Gianni has exhibited over the many years with our Groups," Marchionne said in a statement.
Altavilla's departure from Iveco coincides with a new organizational structure announced Monday by Fiat Industrial as part of its preparations for a merger with tractor unit CNH Global.
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