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Shake-Up at Stellantis Claims Once-Rising Star Tim Kuniskis

by | May 17, 2024

In the wake of the mega-merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Paris-based PSA, Tim Kuniskis seemed the fair-haired boy, the American executive CEO Carlos Tavares could turn to when there was a problem to be solved. But Kuniskis unexpectedly announced his retirement Friday, with replacements named to take on his duties at Dodge and Ram.

Jay Leno and Tim Kuniskis

Kuniskis (r) delivered the first of a limited-run of Dodge muscle cars to comedian Jay Leno last August. It marked the end of the run for the old Dodge Challenger.

It came as a major surprise when, on Friday, the Euro-American automaker announced that Kuniskis was retiring after a nearly 32-year career. Stellantis divided up Kuniskis’ primary duties – running both the Dodge and Ram divisions — between two other senior managers. Christine Feuell and Matt McAlear.

“I want to take the opportunity to warmly thank Tim for his passion, commitment and contributions to Stellantis and in defining the vision of the future electrified Ram and Dodge brands. I wish him well in his retirement,” Stellantis CEO Tavares said in a statement.

But for some observers, the statement left out more than it answered. A big question is why Kuniskis is leaving now, at a time when Stellantis is undergoing job cuts and other changes, much of that focused on the U.S. where the automaker saw sales drop 1.2% last year, even as the industry posted an overall 12.3% increase.

Muscle man

In his three decades, Kuniskis has seen plenty of changes at the U.S. side of Stellantis. He was already a rising star and go-to man for former FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne, serving on that Italian-American manufacturer’s board.

2025 Ram 1500 Rev debut Tavares and Koval NYIAS 2023

The Ram 1500 REV will be the brand’s first all-electric vehicle. Shown here at the truck’s debut are Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares and former Ram boss Mike Koval.

He has earned a reputation as something of a fireman, taking on tough challenges that other managers struggled with, notably when put in charge of the Alfa Romeo division. Marchionne envisioned it as a major brand for Fiat Chrysler but it failed to generate the sort of global sales he predicted. Kunishis helped sculpt a more realistic product program and build a presence in the U.S. – though Alfa still struggles to meet its aspirations.

After the 2021 merger that created Stellantis, Kuniskis became one of the closest advisors to Tavares and was eventually charged with building up two of the automakers American-based brands. At Dodge, he crafted a strategy to overcome the marque’s lack of product, equipping its two classic muscle cars, the Charger and Challenger with ever more powerful engines – and creating a cult-like marketing campaign, “the Brotherhood of Muscle.”

Venturing into the unknown

Even as Kuniskis retires, the most significant move of his career is only just about to be tested. Both Dodge and Ram – the truck brand he has run since 2023 – are set to launch their first all-electric models. That’s significant in several ways. The old FCA was slow to embrace electrification. While the PSA side of Stellantis has launched EVs, the Dodge Charger and Ram 1500 REV will be its first in the U.S.

2025 Dodge Charger Daytona

The new Dodge Charger Daytona will launch later this year. It will be offered in all-electric form, though a gas model, dubbed simply Charger, will follow.

And neither model fits into the classic mold. Until recently, EVs were largely targeted at green-minded buyers who were more interested in reducing emissions than increasing performance. There will be a variety of difference versions of the Charger, the top-line package set to become the most powerful model in Dodge history.

The Ram 1500 REV will join an assortment of all-electric pickups from brands including Tesla, Ford, Chevrolet and Rivian. But demand has so far fallen short of expectation – among other things due to range concerns. In a unique move, the REV will have a sibling model, the Ramcharger, which will be powered by what is technically known as a “serial hybrid.” It will feature a smaller battery pack than the REV but will compensate with a gas engine serving solely as a generator to keep the batteries charged up.

More Stellantis News

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A changing of the Guard

Christine Feuell

Christine Fuell, currently head of the Chrysler brand, now takes on Ram, as well.

With Kuniskis out, responsibilities for the Dodge brand will go to another Fiat Chrysler veteran, Christine Feuell. She will retain her responsibilities – at least for now – as head of the Chrysler brand, as well. In that role Feuell has been challenged to rebuild a brand that many observers once thought Stellantis might abandon. Its only product, with the departure of the big 300 sedan, is the Pacifica minivan. But Chrysler will also be getting an EV around mid-decade, this one based on the Airflow concept.

Matt McAlear, meanwhile, will take charge of the Dodge. He currently serving as Ram’s sales chief – and was a close Kuniskis confidante. Notably, when the latest take on the Ram 1500, the muscular RHO model, was revealed last month it was McAlear, rather than Kuniskis, who met with the media.

“I am confident that Chris will continue the work of Tim in leading the iconic Ram brand. Matt will bring a fresh perspective, while continuing to draw on the heritage of our iconic Dodge brand and leading the transition of the brand toward a sustainable future,” Tavares said in his statement.

What happened?

Matt McAlear

Matt McAlear moves from Ram, where he’s been sales chief, to Dodge.

In a town where secrets rarely last very long, Kuniskis’ departure took many by surprise – and has raised plenty of questions. Whether to take at face value his retirement is a matter that many industry insiders, analysts and automotive journalists are questioning.

Many a senior automotive executive’s “retirement” has actually been a codeword for a split with top management. In other cases, the retirement is brief, the exec simply moving to a new job elsewhere.

“I’d caution against jumping to conclusions,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst with S&P Global Mobility. “We don’t have 100% of the information.”

The other question, said Brinley, is whether Feuell and McAlear are in their new jobs for the long-haul and simply placeholders while Tavares continues the ongoing job cuts and restructuring at Stellantis.


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