Monday, January 7, 2008

Chrysler hires two top Ford engineers

Analyst says company needs to add talented people to regain its competitive edge.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

Two senior Ford Motor Co. engineers have defected to crosstown rival Chrysler LLC, further evidence of Chrysler's efforts to fill its talent pool after its split from Germany's Daimler AG last August.

Susan Dehne and Ben Winter were both escorted off Ford's Dearborn campus last week after offering their resignations.

Winter had been the chief nameplate engineer on the 2008 Ford Taurus sedan. Dehne has held a number of senior engineering positions, including chief nameplate engineer for the Ford Explorer Sport Trac program.

Ford spokesman Mark Truby confirmed the two were no longer employed by Ford, but would not comment on their departure.

Chrysler said Monday that Winter has been hired as chief engineer for front-wheel drive products and Dehne has been named director of body, body exterior and interior systems engineering for an undisclosed product program.

Does this mean Chrysler is trying to cherry-pick engineering talent from other Detroit automakers?

"It certainly looks that way," said analyst Jim Hall, president of 2953 Analytics LLP in Birmingham, adding that building its bench has to be a top priority for the newly independent Chrysler.

"You find the best people when you're in that position because you need the best people to turn around."

Hall said some engineers have been lured to struggling companies by the challenge of more responsibility.

Last year, Chrysler made a number of high-profile acquisitions from other car companies, including Toyota Motor Corp.'s Jim Press, who is now Chrysler's vice chairman and president; Deborah Wahl Meyer, formerly of Toyota's Lexus division, now Chrysler's chief marketing officer; and Nissan Motor Co.'s Doug Betts, now Chrysler's chief customer officer.

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