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March 4, 2020 4:15 PM, EST

Fiat Sales Boss Set to Leave After Settling Dispute Over SEC Probe

Reid Bigland next to Ram pickupReid Bigland, then head of the Ram brand, walks next to the Ram 1500 pickup truck after it was named 2019 North American Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show on Jan. 14, 2019, in Detroit. (Tony Ding/Associated Press)

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s U.S. sales chief will leave next month after settling a dispute over how he was paid during a federal probe into the carmaker’s reporting practices.

Reid Bigland, who serves on the Group Executive Council, Fiat Chrysler’s highest governing body, will depart April 3 after 22 years with the company. He’ll part ways after resolving a whistleblower lawsuit in which he alleged Fiat Chrysler withheld 90% of his 2018 pay package as retaliation for his cooperation with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigators.

“All matters pertaining to legal actions between Reid and the company have been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved,” Shawn Morgan, a Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman, said in an email.

In June, Bigland, 54, claimed Fiat Chrysler withheld pay to punish him for refusing to be a “scapegoat” for company practices he said dated back 30 years. Bigland has said the SEC pressured him to admit wrongdoing, but he refused.

“Reid is leaving FCA on his own accord and is looking forward to the next chapter in his life,” Deborah Gordon, Bigland’s lawyer, said in an email.

Blemished Record

Bigland was widely viewed as a rising star within Fiat Chrysler after he was appointed to head of U.S. sales in 2011. He became one of the late CEO Sergio Marchionne’s most trusted deputies by overseeing a streak of rising sales in the U.S. that earned him added responsibilities. At various points during his tenure, he was chief of the Ram pickup division and the premium Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands.

But his record was blemished by allegations U.S. dealers made in a 2016 lawsuit that claimed Fiat Chrysler had offered retailers money to falsify sales. While the carmaker settled that suit in April 2019, the allegations spurred investigations by the SEC and Justice Department.

Fiat Chrysler restated 5½ years of sales results in July 2016 and said at the time that its counting methodology had been in place for decades. The SEC fined Fiat Chrysler $40 million in September for making misleading statements to investors. The carmaker didn’t admit wrongdoing.

Three Replacements

Fiat Chrysler named several of Bigland’s deputies to replace him in his various roles. Jeff Kommor, vice president of U.S. retail, fleet and small-business sales, will lead U.S. sales, while David Buckingham, chief operating officer of Canada operations, gets bumped up to CEO. Mike Koval, the director of Ram marketing, will be head of the pickup brand on an interim basis.

Host Seth Clevenger went to CES 2020 in Las Vegas and met with Rich Mohr of Ryder Fleet Management Solutions and Stephan Olsen of the Paccar Innovation Center to discuss how high-tech the industry has become. Listen to a snippet above, and to hear the full episode, go to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.

Kommor, 59, will have to contend with a softening market, uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and increasing competition in truck and SUV segments.

The automaker’s U.S. sales slipped 1.4% in 2019, as sagging demand for divisions including Dodge and Chrysler offset Ram’s expansion. Toward the end of the year, the automaker started getting pushback from dealers over pressure it’s been putting on them to take delivery of vehicles they didn’t order.

Fiat Chrysler plans to merge within the next year with France’s PSA Group in a deal that would create the world’s fourth-largest carmaker. The company is betting it can deliver even bigger profits this year on the backs of the Ram truck and Jeep SUV brands.

Dealer Reaction

Despite the distractions that were swirling around Bigland, dealers said he carried on as if nothing unusual were happening. He held a call with top retailers this morning to let them know he was leaving, said David Kelleher, a Philadelphia-area Fiat Chrysler dealer who sits on the automaker’s dealer council.

A bodybuilder who put off socializing with dealers to stick to his 4 a.m. workout routine, Bigland would at times resist retailers’ requests for financial support or incentives, then fight for their interests behind closed doors. “He didn’t want to be your buddy,” Kelleher said. “A lot of executives want to be your buddy, but they’re less inclined to be able to produce anything of any tangible value.”

Kelleher doesn’t expect Bigland to be out of the car business for long. “He’s way too talented an executive with way too many years ahead of him to be finished,” he said. “I fully expect that he’ll emerge” at another company.

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