Arriving from his home town of Detroit, Michigan, Patrick Dougherty, the new CEO of Fiat Chrysler Australia, is determined to make his time in Australia count as he heads a revised business strategy to improve the inner workings of the rapidly growing company.
Fiat Chrysler Australia has enjoyed substantial growth on the back of strong Jeep sales, as well as improvements from its Italian brands since taking over operations from importer Ateco Automotive in May 2012.
So far this year Jeep sales are up 38.2 per cent to 27,574 (on an already strong performance in 2013), Fiat is up 71.7 per cent to 5316 and Alfa Romeo is up 15.1 per cent to 2434. Dodge (with Journey being its only model) has remained basically unchanged at 1463 while Chrysler is down 34.1 per cent to 1622.
Dougherty says that despite the potential for local talent to head up Fiat Chrysler Australia, the time was right for the business to become "world class".
“Why bring an American?” Dougherty posed to the Australian motoring media in Melbourne yesterday. “We have plenty of qualified Australians that can do the job … but the reality is I am the connector, I have to connect the people, the systems and the processes to build this up and get it world class and that’s why I am here."
Without going into much detail, Dougherty admitted that he would replicate some of the processes Fiat Chrysler Automobiles does in other markets here. He also believes there are some quick gains to be had while the business focuses on its longer-term strategy.
“We know that there are some gaps that need to be closed fairly quickly. For us, there are so many processes that we do all the way from ordering to planning our vehicle production which is not automated all the time, so we would like to automate our systems.”
Perhaps the biggest change will come from a servicing point of view, as Fiat Chrysler Australia’s single warehouse operation is likely to change to better meet its growing customer base.
“I think from a service and parts standpoint we are a one-warehouse operation in Melbourne and it may not be the optimal situation. Maybe we would like to expand different things.”
Dougherty, who was previously in charge of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s global parts and service division, which made him responsible for the management of service, parts and customer care across more than 2500 Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Fiat and Alfa Romeo dealerships around the world, believes that part of growing the business in Australia is improving the brand’s customer relations experience.
"We have to make sure we deliver the customer experience we need to deliver and that we build loyalty and retention and we get the mindset that it's not going to happen in this market, you can't continue to sell cars and not deliver the best in class customer experience."
Dougherty believes that increasing the level of service retention via better customer service as well as more technologically advanced methods – such as cellular communication between the car and dealership - will form part of the brand’s future.