The rumors have been swirling for a few weeks. Now there are reports Chrysler deputy CEO Jim Press is in fact leaving the company before the end of the year. While the company will not officially comment on the reports, it appears to be the end of a strange marriage between Press and Chrysler. It also would mark the end of a relationship that never flourished as many expected when Press left Toyota for the American auto maker.
Remember a few years back when Press joined Chrysler? It was shortly after Cerberus Capital had bought the Chrysler and the move was met with overwhelming applause both inside and outside the industry. After all, Press had become a rock star of sorts at Toyota. He was the highest ranking American at the Japanese auto maker known for a smooth, understated approach to dealing with dealers. Translation: If Press could help steer Toyota's success in North America, imagine what he could do at Chrysler.
Well it never materialized.
Sure, when Press took the job he talked of Chrysler kicking the incentive habit and streamlining a line-up that was running out of steam. And for a while, he started down that path. But it wasn't long before Cerberus, pushed into mounting losses, decided to reign in Jim's plans for turning around Chrysler. The writing was on the wall: the Press impact on Chrysler would be limited at best.
As Chrysler slid towards bankruptcy Press, along with CEO Bob Nardelli, became the face of a company trying to avoid collapse. The man known for having the magic touch with Toyota dealers was reduced to getting blasted by members of Congress as Chrysler started closing dealerships in bankruptcy. Watching it all, you got the impression Press knew he drew the short straw and had no choice but to sit there and take it.
Since Fiat took control of Chrysler, Press has been an invisible man of sorts. While he is officially Deputy CEO of Chrysler, the rumors have been swirling that Press wouldn't be long for the company. Frankly, we shouldn't be surprised. Culturally, Fiat is handling Chrysler with a different approach than Cerberus, which never gave Press a chance to leave his mark. At some point I wouldn't blame him for taking his pay and riding off into the sunset.
The Press/Chrysler marriage never lived up to it's promise for a variety of reasons: timing, the economic storm hitting auto makers, and the attempt to blend a man and company that were never a perfect fit.
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