Chrysler Names Kuniskis Head of Fiat North America as Soave Leaves Company

Chrysler Group LLC, the U.S. automaker majority owned by Fiat SpA (F), named Tim Kuniskis head of the Fiat brand in North America.

Laura Soave, who joined Chrysler in 2010 as the previous Fiat North America brand head, has left the company to “pursue other interests,” the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker said today in a statement.

Soave oversaw Chrysler’s efforts to bring the Fiat brand back to the U.S. after nearly 30 years with the 500 small car. North America sales of the Fiat 500 through October totaled 21,380, short of Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne’s forecast of 50,000 deliveries. The rollout was held back by Chrysler’s decision to create new stores for Fiat instead of using space within Chrysler dealerships.

“Distribution was the biggest challenge for Fiat,” said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com, a Santa Monica, California-based website that tracks auto sales. “They’ve done a good job in building the buzz.”

Chrysler, which began selling the Fiat 500 in March, ran into delays opening new retail outlets over issues such as obtaining required building permits for construction, Soave had said. The automaker only had 70 stores open in the U.S. in June.

Chrysler has opened more than 120 U.S. Fiat stores, Richard Palmer, chief financial officer, said Oct. 28. Chrysler plans to have 130 Fiat dealerships open in the U.S. by year’s end and expects to open another 20 in the first quarter of 2012, the company has said.

Missed Opportunity

The slow start for Fiat meant the brand missed a chance to take advantage of limited supplies of Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. models after the earthquake and tsunami in March disrupted the supply of parts from Japan.

Olivier Francois, the brand’s worldwide chief, began a Fiat marketing campaign in September featuring Jennifer Lopez, the singer and actress.

Kuniskis, who joined the automaker in 1992, had most recently served as director for both the Chrysler brand and Fiat brand product marketing. In his new role, he is responsible for the Fiat brand’s sales, marketing, dealer network and service.

Marchionne, who is also Fiat’s CEO, aims to integrate Chrysler and Fiat to reduce costs and achieve a target of more than 100 billion euros ($135 billion) in revenue by 2014.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim Higgins in Southfield, Michigan at thiggins21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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