Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gale joins Chrysler reunion

Cerberus adds former design chief to team of advisers


AutoWeek | Updated: 06/19/07, 9:52 am et
Revered former Chrysler design guru Tom Gale has joined several other key former executives on the Cerberus advisory team for Chrysler.

The team of advisers could serve as a shadow executive team when Cerberus Capital Management LP completes its purchase of the Chrysler group from DaimlerChrysler. The deal is expected to close in late July.

Cerberus officials, headed by founder Stephen Feinberg, met with 17 members of the Chrysler national dealer council June 7 at Cerberus headquarters in New York. During a three-hour meeting, dealers aired their concerns, and the parties began developing a to-do list for Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda and his team.

A Chrysler reunion

If LaSorda and his team get into a fix, Cerberus has no shortage of experts waiting to offer advice. In fact, the Cerberus adviser list is beginning to look like a former Chrysler executive roster.

Attending the dealer meeting were former sales chief Gary Dilts; former Chrysler COO Wolfgang Bernhard; Thomas Gilman, ex-CFO of DaimlerChrysler Services; and Jerry Farrell, former president of Chrysler Financial Corp.

Bernhard is best known as the product whiz who championed the Chrysler 300C during his years at Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich. He has been a key adviser to Cerberus in the acquisition, spending a lot of time at Chrysler headquarters.

Gale, who retired in 2002, developed the cab-forward design concept used in the Chrysler 300M and other LH cars. Gale is also known for the PT Cruiser, Dodge Viper, Plymouth Prowler and numerous concepts.

In a recent story, Motor Trend magazine described Gale as "the man who helped Motown find its mojo."

Dilts was Chrysler's top sales official until he left the company in June 2006 after a dispute with now-departed global sales chief Joe Eberhardt.

During Gale's tenure, Chrysler developed its modern design style: dramatic, rounded passenger cars; muscular pickups and SUVs; and the retro PT Cruiser, a combination minivan and 1930s hot rod.

Hot concepts

Gale was noted for producing exciting concept vehicles that quickly turned into production models. In one case, the 1991 concept Neon, the concept was actually displayed after the production version was approved.

Gale also showed his love of hot rods with the 1993 Prowler concept, later a production model.

Besides the pending Chrysler deal, Cerberus owns the majority stake in GMAC Financial Services. That has raised speculation that the backroom operations of the GM and Chrysler finance units could be merged. Gilman and Farrell will be key players in assessing that issue.

Cerberus retains executives as advisers to help with companies the hedge fund buys. Some of those executives are full-time Cerberus employees. Others, like Dilts, keep their current jobs. Dilts is senior vice president, U.S. automotive, for J.D. Power and Associates.
Homecoming at Chrysler

The growing Cerberus-Chrysler advisory team includes several high-powered Chrysler alumni.

Wolfgang Bernhard - Former Chrysler wunderkind, champion of the Chrysler 300C. Perhaps remembered most for thundering into the Detroit auto show on the 10-cylinder Dodge Tomahawk motorcycle. Ran Volkswagen brand before leaving in 2006 management shakeup.

Tom Gale - Innovative designer and author of the cab-forward look that dominated Chrysler cars in the 1980s. Also designed on Gale's watch were the retro PT Cruiser, the muscular Dodge Ram pickup and the Dodge Viper.

Gary Dilts - Sales chief who left Chrysler last summer after butting heads with Joe Eberhardt, ex-global sales and marketing chief. Dilts, who was at Chrysler 30 years, revamped sales and dealer operations. Now senior vice president for U.S. automotive at J.D. Power and Associates.

Jerry Farrell - Former president and COO of Chrysler Financial. Started automotive real estate trust called Kimco AutoFund. Now a Cerberus adviser.

Thomas Gilman - Worked 27 years at Chrysler, including stints as CFO of Chrysler Financial and manager of global dealer credit operations. Gilman served on the Daimler-Benz/Chrysler Corp. integration team after the 1998 merger. After leaving Chrysler, he served as CFO of Asbury Automotive Group, a public dealer chain.

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