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An Auto CEO much of Detroit doesn't know takes over a new empire

CEO of Stellantis, the firm born out of Fiat and PSA's merger, will be steering 400,000 employees and 14 brands


Tara Patel Gabrielle Coppola & Daniele Lepido | Bloomberg 

Carlos Tavares
For Carlos Tavares to succeed with Stellantis, he’ll have to do more than just streamline and slash costs, the playbook he followed at PSA Photo: Reuters

The just-finalised merger of NV and PSA Group is poised to raise the global profile of an under-the-radar chief executive who will lead a vast and massively complex carmaker with quiet intensity.

The market debut this week of Stellantis, the group formed by the Italian-American and French auto manufacturers, will function as coming-out party for its leader, Carlos Tavares. He’s spent a 40-year career rising up the ladder of an industry that birthed the modern day celebrity CEO, engineering impressive turnarounds while largely going unrecognised taking commercial flights in and out of

The wiry, hyperactive 62-year-old has shown little desire to be another Lee Iacocca, Dieter Zetsche, Sergio Marchionne or Carlos Ghosn. But whether he comes around to the spotlight or not, he’ll get much more of it steering an empire of roughly 400,000 employees and 14 brands into an uncertain future, where cars increasingly run off of batteries and software and the combustion engine meets its demise.

“He’s not selling Carlos, and he doesn’t want to,” said Jim Press, an auto executive who worked with Tavares when the latter headed Nissan Motor Co.’s North American operations. “He develops people and organisations. The guy is a great businessman.”

Automotive mega mergers have failed in simpler times. Before Daimler’s disastrous combination with Chrysler around the turn of the century, PSA’s arch-rival Renault acquired American Motors in a doomed deal the French company reversed from a little over a decade later.

For Tavares to succeed with Stellantis, he’ll have to do more than just streamline and slash costs, the playbook he followed in bringing PSA back from the brink. The self-described “performance psychopath” also will have to prove his product chops and catch up on electrification in an era when little seems to matter more to investors.

Racing Roots

Born and raised in Lisbon, Tavares displayed his early passion as a 14-year-old volunteer at the Estoril track. He has since competed in more than 500 races as an amateur driver and has said he became an engineer because he lacked the talent and money to race professionally. He was scheduled to drive a Lancia Stratos at an annual rally in Monaco this month before Covid-19 forced its cancellation. After graduating from one of France’s top engineering schools, Tavares started his career at Renault in 1981. He headed up partner Nissan’s North America operations for two years before becoming No. 2 to Ghosn at Renault in 2011.

In an unusual power play for a top job, he told Bloomberg News in 2013 that since Ghosn was planning to stick around, he would be interested in running General Motors Co. or Ford Motor Co. He left Renault within weeks and took the helm of almost-bankrupt PSA six months later.

The French state and China’s Dongfeng Motor Group bailed out PSA by participating in a share sale and 3 billion-euro capital raise. Tavares pruned the model lineup, cut costs and raised vehicle prices. PSA turned its first annual profit in three years.

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First Published: Mon, January 18 2021. 02:14 IST