BALTIMORE – Chrysler looks to ensure “seamless transitions” for several executives stepping into new roles as it tries to keep operations humming in the midst of a sometimes dramatic comeback story.
That includes Jason Stoicevich, who is part of an extensive executive shuffling of late that has landed him in the chair as head of Fiat’s North American operations, a brand still finding its footing after being re-launched in 2009.
Stoicevich has taken over from Tim Kuniskis, appointed president of Dodge, replacing Reid Bigland, who assumed control of Ram operations after Fred Diaz left Chrysler for Nissan.
Prior to his new appointment, Stoicevich already was involved with the brand, handling the California market for both Fiat and Chrysler, which CEO Sergio Marchionne separated from the rest of the auto maker’s U.S. sales operations because of unique trends there.
“The role I had in California, the timing was right – literally,” he tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of a media drive for the Fiat 500L here. “If there was any job in the building, any brand in the building to run that made the most sense to me…it’s this one, so it’s been pretty smooth.”
Fiat launches the longer-wheelbase 500L 4-door this month alongside the tiny 500 A-car, which has been a steady seller for Chrysler. The 500 delivers north of 3,000 vehicles each month, according to WardsAuto data.
An electrified version of the 500 arrives in California this month, as well. Stoicevich says initial demand for the EV is exceeding expectations; “probably the (refreshed) Chrysler 300 is the closest,” he says, of the pace of early buyer interest.
Fiat operates 205 dealers across the U.S. and is on track to have 225 by the end of the year, the executive says. “A majority of the points that we’ve provisioned will be open or close to being opened.”
The brand’s re-entry into the U.S. is coming as Chrysler Group seeks favor with small-car customers. Stoicevich gives no hint whether Fiat might expand its lineup beyond the B-segment – though a future product plan shows the brand gaining at least six models in the coming years – but does say the market for A- and B- cars is running at a steady clip.
“We’re always continuing to look at what segments make sense for us down the road. To answer that question would be impossible,” he says.
“The segmentation shift (from SUVs) was drastic. There’s been a correction, but those segments are continuing to grow. They’re not growing at a rapid pace, but a nice, steady pace.”
“Consumers are willing to accept smaller (vehicles) as long as you’re giving them the features, benefits and functionality that they would have otherwise gotten in a larger (model),” he adds.
When asked if Fiat could eventually become a volume driver in certain segments, similar to Dodge, Stoicevich waves away that notion.
“Our goal isn’t to hit a certain sales target and drive the volume up. We’re still in the process of fully launching the brand in North America, and it’s just all about growth,” he says.
Stoicevich also dismisses concerns the 500L, whose size and price runs neck-and-neck with the C-segment Dodge Dart, may swipe sales from the just-launched compact.
“The brands are completely separate and the dealer network is completely separate,” he says. “As we’re seeing with our customer today, the Fiat brand is getting a very emotional-purchase customer you do not see with the Dodge side. I think they’ll be next to no overlap between the cars.”