“I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into,” says new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia boss, Steve Zanlunghi, about the challenge he faces in righting the ship.
Announced as Pat Dougherty’s successor in August, Zanlunghi quickly went about tearing down what he considered a “cute, funny” marketing campaign in the Jeep brand’s “You bought a Jeep?” series of TV commercials.
“I tell you, I probably wasn’t happy with some of the direction that I saw most recently,” Zanlunghi told media in October.
This week, while introducing the new Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and the Alfa brand’s latest dealership in Melbourne, Zanlunghi addressed concerns about Fiat Chrysler’s image in Australia.
“This market has its challenges, I won’t shy away from that. We have work to do here with customer perception,” he told assembled media, adding that “we have been working on plans since before I started”.
“The previous administration and Pat Dougherty had started some good initiatives and I’m continuing on them as we speak.”
Speaking candidly, Zanlunghi said that not only did he know what he “was getting into”, but that the local side of the Australian/American dual citizen’s family had been “sending me all the negative press”.
Despite family painting what might have seemed like a grim picture, Zanlunghi said the company’s image in Australia is not the worst he has seen. “The UK [arm of FCA] was in worse shape when I took that over, and we managed to turn that around.”
To turn things around in Australia, Zanlunghi will need to fix Jeep sales. Although it may never return to the heights achieved when it had a strong Australian dollar to work with, Jeep sales have nonetheless slumped to 11,711 year-to-date in 2016, compared to 23,123 at the same point in 2015.
“I’m excited to be here,” Zanlunghi promises. A new CEO would never say otherwise, but his efforts thus far would suggest Zanlunghi is a man of action.
He will be hoping to see a major upswing with Jeep’s new Compass SUV, unveiled in September ahead of a late 2017 Australian launch. The new-generation Wrangler and the anticipated Wrangler ute should also bring improvement to the ledger.
In the (relatively) short term, however, it may be the revitalised Alfa Romeo brand and its four-leaf clover models that brings FCA its best luck here, with the Giulia and Stelvio Quadrifoglio forecast internally to be likely hot sellers in Australia’s premium market.