Fiat Chrysler Automobile announced Saturday that Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne's health had suddenly deteriorated following surgery and that its board of directors had chosen Jeep executive Mike Manley to replace him.
Marchionne, a 66-year-old Italian Canadian, joined Fiat in 2004 and led the Turin, Italy-based company's merger with bankrupt U.S. carmaker Chrysler. Manley, 54, had led the Jeep brand since June 2009 and the Ram brand from October 2015.
The announcement, which came at the end of an urgently convened board meeting, marked the end of the Marchionne era, which included the turnaround of failing Fiat, the takeover of Chrysler and the spinoffs of the heavy machinery and truckmaker CNH and supercar maker Ferrari.
Fiat Chrysler said in a statement that Marchionne "will be unable to return to work" due to his deteriorating health.
Marchionne, 66, had already announced he would step down in early 2019, so the board's decision, to be confirmed at an upcoming shareholders' meeting, will "accelerate" the executive’s transition process, the statement said.
The England-born Manley had been one of Marchionne's closest collaborators at the group, and in a previous role had been responsible for product planning and all sales activities outside of North America.
Marchionne was reported to have had surgery for a shoulder problem about three weeks ago in Switzerland.
Fiat is considered a close-knit family, and FCA Chairman John Elkann said he was "profoundly saddened to learn of Sergio's state of health. It was a situation that was unthinkable until a few hours ago, and one that leaves us all with a sense of injustice."
Elkann didn't give details of Marchionne's health problems, adding that his "first thoughts go to Sergio and his family." He asked everyone to respect Marchionne's "privacy and that of all those who are dear to him."
Elkann is a grandson of the late Gianni Agnelli, the longtime Fiat dynasty chieftain.
The boards of Ferrari and CNH Industrial, which makes heavy machinery and trucks, were called urgently to meet Saturday at the Turin headquarters.
Ferrari announced that Louis Camilleri, an Egyptian-board Maltese and longtime executive at Philip Morris International, the tobacco company, was chosen to replace Marchionne as chief executive of the sports carmaker.
Known for sleeping only briefly each night, Marchionne, who is also a lawyer, was holding multiple leadership roles in the companies, notably as chief executive of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, as well as chief executive and chairman of Ferrari.
In early June, Marchionne made his last major presentation as chief executive of Fiat Chrysler, announcing there would be a major investment thrust to make more electrified cars, although traditional engines will continue to dominate production. He unveiled FCA's plans through 2022.
Brands that have been driving the company's revenues include Jeep SUVs, Ram trucks and the premium brands, Maserati and Alfa Romeo. Those brands were expected to account for 80% of revenue by 2022, up from 65% currently.
The passenger-car brands of Fiat and Chrysler have been less profitable.
At the June appearance, Marchionne also predicted Fiat was about to eliminate its debt.