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Blades goes in latest Fiat Auto reshuffle

Fiat Auto chief executive Giancarlo Boschetti has ousted UK managing director Jim Blades, replacing him with his own man Massimo Toso, as he looks to revive flagging sales performance.

The announcement comes shortly after Boschetti blasted UK retailers for offering a substandard service on sales and aftersales. He has been highly critical of the UK operation, which is Fiat's most important market outside Italy. Sales to June have slumped by 24 per cent on the same period last year.

In a terse statement, Fiat Auto UK says Blades is leaving “to continue his career outside of Fiat Auto”. Toso assumes the position this week, taking responsibility for the Fiat Auto and commercial vehicle business unit.

Blades was first appointed UK managing director in 1992 and was re-appointed in 1999 after a two-year stint at the international marketing department at Fiat's Turin head office. He was thought to be favoured by senior Fiat management, but the shake-up follows last month's resignation of group chief executive Paolo Cantarella.

Sal Ciullo, managing director at Dixon Motors, which has four Fiat dealerships, was surprised by the news, but says he hopes Toso can “get to grips with the issues affecting the Fiat brand”.

The Alfa Romeo brand will operate under managing director Glyn Owen, appointed in June, as an autonomous business unit. It is clear that Boschetti, who was appointed last year, believes Fiat Auto needs a radical reshuffle to ensure its survival as an Italian-owned carmaker. The company has a put option with General Motors, which holds a 20 per cent stake, which it can exercise after 2004.

Fiat Group continues to face pressure from creditors after announcing second-quarter losses at the automotive division of £248.6m. Executives indicate that Fiat Auto will lose a similar amount in the second half of this year, but are confident that the turnaround plan implemented this year will help it to break even in 2003.

Boschetti has told dealers in Italy that it was a mistake to order an abrupt end to Fiat's practice of pre-registering cars across Europe because it gave the impression that sales were slumping. The company is believed to have pre-registered around 180,000 cars last year, of which 100,000 were in Italy.

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