Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Chrysler Chairman Wolfgang Bernhard: Why He Matters

There's a new sheriff at Dodge, and for that matter Chrysler as well. But the new boss is actually one of the old bosses. Either way you look at it, the return of Wolfgang Bernhard to be chairman of Chrysler is important for a few reasons.

First, he brings the kind of urgency Chrysler needs. Yes, Tom LaSorda will remain CEO, but while he ran the shop under Dieter Zetsche, the U.S. Automaker never got the full attention it deserved at DaimlerChrysler . That's not to say LaSorda was kept from pursuing projects under Zetsche. But there's huge difference being the only child, as Chrysler is under parent company Cerberus, and being a decidedly second favorite at Daimler.

Bernhard's agressive style is one reason Chrysler rolled out hit models like the 300C and Charger when he was COO of the company under Zetsche. He will push the automaker to stand out and break away from building rather mundane designs like the Dodge Caliber. It will take some time for that to happen, but keep in mind Chrysler's designers are among the best in the business--when freed up to do their thing.

Second, Bernhard knows Chrysler and its place in America's auto landscape. That institutional knowledge is critical in helping him get Chrysler back on track. Does this guarantee Chrysler will avoid building mis-positioned models like the Aspen? No. But Bernhardt knowing what Chrysler stands for in the U.S. will help him and the new management team re-establish the automaker.

Now, I can already hear you as you read this say to yourself, "how much difference can one guy make?" In this case, quite a bit. Bernhard is one of those lightning rod leaders in the auto business who is extremely confident with the talent to back up his swagger. And putting the swagger, and profit, back in to Chrysler is the kind of challenge he will relish.

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