Friday, September 21, 2007

Chrysler's Press Says US Auto Makers Will Regain Share

Dow Jones

DETROIT -(Dow Jones)- The new president and vice chairman of Chrysler LLC, who recently headed Toyota Motor Corp.'s (TM) North American business, said Thursday he expects Chrysler and other U.S. auto makers to re-gain market share after years of slipping to foreign rivals.

Jim Press, who was tapped by new Chrysler majority owner Cerberus Capital Management LP to head up sales, marketing and product strategy, also said he can bring more of a customer focus, and long-term outlook to Chrysler.

Press, speaking during a radio interview on Detroit radio station WJR-AM 760, said Chrysler has a capable organization and a "gold plated" culture, but that it needs "some good, fresh direction and some consistent thoughts and observations."

Press said Chrysler will increase its share and said, "I think the domestic auto industry will increase their share."

He also indicated that Chrysler's effort to shrink its dealer base would continue.

"There's no question that there's been shifts in the market and we haven't made the responses necessary to keep our retail organization profitable and growing and prosperous," Press said. "So we need to take a look at that and the other thing we need to do is grow the business."

He said Chrysler has a lot of opportunities to expand its market share, and that he, Tom LaSorda and Chief Executive Bob Nardelli make a strong team.

Cerberus, which acquired an 80.1% stake in Chrysler from Daimler AG (DAI), has brought a more aggressive style to the Detroit auto scene with the hiring of Nardelli, the former chief executive of Home Depot Inc. (HD), and Press, who helped build Toyota's successful North American business.

LaSorda, who was chief executive of Chrysler under DaimlerChrysler, is president and vice chairman in charge of manufacturing, procurement and supply. Both LaSorda and Press report to Nardelli.

Press said he rebuffed offers over the years from other auto makers but was compelled by Cerberus's offer to help rebuild an American icon. He said he wasn't displeased or unhappy at Toyota.

Chrysler is undergoing a restructuring after losing $1.5 billion in 2006.

"Toyota is a very successful organization and they've got their act together and they're really doing well," Press said. "The course is set. This is a chance to not sit by the window and watch things happen, but be part of making history, making things happen."

Press said at Toyota, there were "different reactions from different levels of the company" on his decision to leave.

Press said the U.S. auto industry is going to come back and "come back strong."

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