AutoNation appoints automotive veteran Mike Manley as new CEO

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AutoNation Inc.

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said he had appointed the former Fiat Chrysler chief as the next chief executive, calling on an auto industry veteran to pull the country’s largest publicly traded car dealership chain out of the pandemic.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company said on Tuesday that Mike Manley, currently head of the Americas for Stellantis STLA -0.53%

NV, would assume his new role on November 1, succeeding Mike Jackson. Mr. Jackson will retire the same day after leading AutoNation for more than two decades, during which he has distinguished himself in a low-key industry for his outspoken personality and willingness to publicly challenge automakers.

Mr. Manley will take over at AutoNation as the US dealership model is under pressure. Lockdowns linked to Covid-19 have prompted more customers to watch cars online and finalize vehicle purchases remotely, speeding up the shift to digital sales that began before the pandemic.

AutoNation stock rose about 2% in morning trading on Tuesday.

Mr. Jackson’s retirement from AutoNation has been overdue for some time. He first decided to step down as CEO in 2019, bringing in an automotive industry outsider for the top spot. But his replacement resigned just months after taking the job.

The next CEO, Cheryl Miller, a longtime AutoNation executive, resigned medically at the start of the pandemic and Mr Jackson returned to the top job. In taking the job last year, he vowed to lead the company through the pandemic and avoid more turnover at the top. The board of directors had extended his contract until spring 2022.

Like other major dealer chains, AutoNation is expanding to support a shift towards more digital sales. The company plans to open 130 used car stores across the country by 2026, which it intends to operate more as delivery centers, where customers collect cars purchased online, a Mr. Jackson said.

AutoNation is also struggling with a shortage of vehicles this year as the lack of semiconductor chips hampers the production of new vehicles. Although sales volumes have been lower, profit per vehicle has skyrocketed as demand exceeds supply and customers are willing to pay top dollar for the vehicles they want.

In the second quarter, AutoNation reported record earnings per share of $ 4.83 and gross profit per vehicle of $ 2,342, the highest on record for the dealer chain. Mr Jackson has long advocated for the auto industry to operate on smaller inventories and said he hopes automakers do not return to pre-pandemic production levels.

AutoNation president Rick Burdick said on Tuesday that hiring Mr. Manley would bring a full automotive experience to the company, which owns and operates more than 300 locations across the United States.

Mr Manley, a 57-year-old Briton, played a central role in negotiating the merger of Fiat Chrysler and the PSA Group to create Stellantis, the auto industry’s biggest merger in decades. His experience with the US market in particular was seen as the key to the combination’s success.

The executive had long been in the upper echelons of Fiat Chrysler, having run Jeep – one of its most popular brands – and as a key lieutenant to predecessor Sergio Marchionne, who saved Chrysler from bankruptcy and brought it to life. combined with the Italian Fiat SpA.

In mid-2018, Mr. Manley was propelled to the top positions at Fiat Chrysler days before Mr. Marchionne’s sudden death.

During his 2.5 years as CEO, Mr. Manley helped raise the profile of the company’s Ram truck brand and continued to develop Jeep globally. His North American operations posted some of its biggest profits in years under his leadership, as well as increased operating margins.

At Stellantis, Mark Stewart, the company’s chief operating officer for North America, and Antonio Filosa, chief operating officer for Latin America, will now report directly to chief executive Carlos Tavares.

Write to Nick Kostov at [email protected] and Nora Naughton at [email protected]

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