John Burton was named by GAC-Fiat (the joint venture of Chrysler and Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group) to be its new general manager effective March 1. Burton will be the replacement for Jack Cheng. This brings Fiat-Chrysler one step closer to building Jeep into becoming a global brand. Burton will be heading the company’s Chinese joint venture to boost the output of the sports utility vehicle.
The joint venture is aiming to build more than 100,000 new Jeep models in China by 2014 as part of a plan for Fiat to reach sales of 300,000 units each year in China by next year. Fiat-Chrysler is hopeful that since Jeep is widely recognized in China, it will help in catching up to rivals in China. It also wants Jeep sales to reach a record high.
Burton is a 20-year veteran. He has supervised GM facilities in Poland, Germany and Britain. His most recent projects include taking charge of GM’s green field projects in Detroit. He is faced with a formidable challenge as Fiat is one of the last automakers to enter China, according to Bernstein analyst Max Wharburton.
He said that while they know quite a bit about China because of Iveco (trucks), they’re only starting with passenger trucks and will have to get pass obstacles like being an unrecognized brand, having limited distribution, and having a “somewhat difficult local partner."
Fiat has quite a lot of catching up to do as it falls behind other foreign car companies in China, the biggest auto market in the world. Both General Motors and Volkswagen sold more than 2.8 million cars in 2012. IHS Global Insight said that together, they made up for more than 29% of total vehicle sales in China.