Fred Diaz's rise to the top of Chrysler/Fiat has been rapid and richly deserved. In 1989, fresh out of Texas Lutheran University with a degree in psychology, he started as a trainee in Chrysler's Dallas, Texas, zone. After a year, he was a service and parts manager. Twenty years later -- having progressed through 11 more jobs and promotions on the sales, service, and customer relations side of the business -- he was named Ram Truck president and CEO.
Then, in 2011, as if one big job were not enough (most top Chrysler executives carry two major responsibilities), he was named president and CEO of Chrysler de Mexico. And he's a member of Chrysler's Ethics Board and Global Diversity Council and a Board Trustee of the philanthropic Chrysler Foundation. We caught up with him recently to talk about Ram trucks.
TT: How did you come to this job? Have you always been a truck guy?
FD: I'm a native Texan, born and raised, and a lot of my experience has been in truck country: San Antonio, Houston, Dallas twice, and I ran the Denver Region for 4-1/2 years. So I've been in very truck-centric markets, and I've always had a freaky passion for trucks. This opportunity didn't come to me by accident. I live and breathe and am passionate about trucks.
TT: You've owned a few?
FD: [laughing] Many, many trucks. I grew up in San Antonio, and we have some ranch property in South Texas, so I used to spend a lot of time -- not so much now because of the responsibilities I have -- down there on the ranch, in and out of trucks and tractors. Working on a ranch is therapeutic for me, to get away from it all. It's hard work, but a different kind of work that lets you really clear your mind.
TT: How would you summarize your Ram truck philosophy?
FD: It's producing products for the needs and the demands of truck customers. I take a lot of pride in the fact that we do our research, we know our customers, so we know what our truck customers need and want. If you look at our 13 product offerings today -- the Express, Tradesman, Outdoorsman, Limited, Longhorn -- I could go on and on with everything we have done on light duty, heavy duty, the Ram cargo van. It's giving customers what they want, and the special packaging works exactly for them and what they do, for their vocational choices as well as recreational choices on weekends.
TT: One huge challenge will be steadily increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandates. How you will meet those while maintaining capability and affordability?
FD: That is something of which we are keenly aware, and we are working with our engineers and product developers to keep it as a high priority going forward. It's a huge challenge, but we have a group of designers and engineers that I would put up against any in the entire world. Our partnership with Fiat and the technologies they have, coupled with ours, is a match made in heaven. That's what will give us the ability to whip these CAFE standards without sacrificing capability while keeping our prices affordable.
TT: Will you get any Ram-branded vehicles from Fiat?
FD: We have announced the Fiat Doblo cargo van that will be coming to us next year, and we're looking at some other products that could come from the Fiat stable.
TT: Your 2013 Ram pickups are much more than the expected mid-cycle refresh.
FD: We are very, very passionate about trucks, and Sergio [Chrysler/Fiat CEO Marchionne] loves trucks and the Ram brand and where we're going with it. As we started looking at the research on what our customers needed and wanted, what technologies would be available to us and what we wanted to do with this truck to be a major force to be reckoned with, as we started tweaking and deciding what we were going to do, we just went a little crazy. We said, "You know what, we are serious about this. Let's go." We put the business case together, and it was approved. We are not messing around. We are serious about our trucks. And if you look at our sales and market share gains this year, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
In every issue, Truck Trend conducts interviews with people involved in designing, building, and equipping current and future trucks. Have any suggestions for interviews you'd like to see? E-mail us at email@example.com