AutoNation Inc. appointed a top executive at Stellantis NV as its new chief executive officer, an unexpected move that puts the former head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in charge of the biggest car-dealership chain in the U.S.
Mike Manley, who’s been head of the Americas since Stellantis was created earlier this year via the merger of Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group, will succeed AutoNation’s long-time CEO Mike Jackson, the company said in a statement Tuesday. Jackson, 72, will leave the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company’s board on Nov. 1.
Jackson has twice attempted to step aside in recent years. The board named Carl Liebert, a financial-services executive with little auto industry experience, to take over in February 2019, only to oust him five months later and replace him with former Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Miller. Miller departed in July 2020, citing health reasons.
AutoNation rose 2.8% to $122.20 at 9:48 a.m. in New York. The stock advanced 70% this year through Monday. Stellantis was little changed in European trading.
Manley, 57, was in charge of the fast-growing and lucrative Jeep and Ram brands at Fiat Chrysler for years before taking the reins at the company in mid-2018 when former CEO Sergio Marchionne died. Fiat Chrysler agreed to merge with PSA in December 2019.
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares issued a statement wishing Manley well in his new role.
Manley’s departure will add to the perception that Tavares and the former PSA Group have gained the upper hand in a combination that was billed as a merger of equals.
Since the deal went through in January, Tavares has used news conferences and analyst briefings to thank Manley profusely for running the Americas operation and helping seal the combination.
Tavares first contacted Manley about a tie-up in 2018. After a series of meetings over many months, the two hammered out a deal that would vault Stellantis into the same league as Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG.
Tavares dominated the push for a deal, became CEO, and placed several ex-PSA executives in key positions, leaving Manley as head of its most important and profitable region, where PSA had little presence.
“Despite having a year to formulate a longer-term strategy for Stellantis, Tavares will hold off on presenting one until early 2022,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Michael Dean said in a note Tuesday. “This may reflect post Covid-19 uncertainty or perhaps an internal power struggle, with FCA dominating 2H20 sales and earnings, though results are now split geographically.”
Several former PSA executives have moved into key positions at Stellantis, including officials who now run Europe and functional areas such as performance, software, human resources, planning, purchasing and supply and manufacturing. Communications are also overseen from Paris. Chief Financial Officer Richard Palmer is one of the few top executives from Fiat Chrysler.
Manley joined the former DaimlerChrysler in 2000 and was named head of the Jeep brand in 2009. He took over Ram six years later.