Chrysler Group President-CEO Tom LaSorda announced to staffers this afternoon in the memo that the German-born executive "will be leaving the company in order to return to automotive retailing within the Mercedes-Benz network in the United States." The memo did not reveal his new title, but said the senior VPs and VPs in sales, marketing, international and service will report directly to Mr. LaSorda until further notice.
Mr. Eberhardt's move into retail is somewhat ironic because as exec VP-global sales, marketing and service at Chrysler Group, Mr. Eberhardt alienated and angered its dealers, who have complained for at least a year that headquarters is overproducing vehicles and that dealers were strong-armed into taking vehicles they didn't want. Some have refused to order new 2007 models until he was removed.
"The dealers are ready for a lynching" of Mr. Eberhardt, one dealer told Advertising Age this summer. "They can have his going-away party in a phone booth," another dealer said.
Before arriving at Chrysler Group in summer 2003, Mr. Eberhardt was president-CEO of DaimlerChrysler U.K., where he terminated the entire Mercedes-Benz dealer network.
Loss of top marketing execs
This year, the automaker lost two top marketing talents -- Jeff Bell and Julie Roehm -- along with Chrysler group veterans and sales veterans Gary Dilts, 56, senior VP-U.S. sales, and Raymond Fisher, 53, VP-sales, service and parts operations. Both men had spent their entire careers at the automaker and were well respected by dealers.
Mr. Eberhardt, who did a stint in the late 1990s as VP-marketing of New Jersey-based Mercedes-Benz here, is married to a New Yorker and made no secret that he wanted to return to the area. He is said to be the brains behind this summer's Dr. Z ad campaign, which featured DaimlerChrysler AG Chairman Dieter Zetsche. The marketer ended the Dr. Z TV spots in late summer.
Jason Vines, VP-communications at Chrysler Group, said Mr. Eberhardt will become a Mercedes dealer and will not necessarily return to New York. "He likes the retail side."
Been in a 'tough spot'
Mr. Vines added that the exec has been "in a tough spot the past few months. ... Joe gets little credit for what he did and lots of blame." When asked what Mr. Eberhardt should get credit for, Mr. Vines replied: "He brought discipline to the sales and marketing system that wasn't there before."
Industry watchers wondered whether former Chrysler Group marketing director Julie Roehm, who left Wal-Mart today as senior VP-global marketing communications, might return to the automaker. Mr. Vines put that question to rest, saying of her move and its timing: "Of all the purest coincidences in the world, that is the purest."
Chrysler Group plunged into the red in the third quarter, posting an operating loss of $1.4 billion, which it said was mainly due to an "unfavorable shift in product and market mix and negative pricing." The automaker is heavily dependant on truck sales.