Top executives from Ford or Peugeot may replace the head of Fiat’s loss-making car unit, Giancarlo Boschetti, who reaches retirement age in 2004, Reuters reported, citing trade newspaper Automotive News, which said on its Web site that Fiat group has hired Paris-based headhunter Eric Salmon & Partners to find a replacement for Boschetti, and that the firm has already presented a short-list including three names.

Reuters noted that Boschetti, 63, former chief executive of Fiat’s truck unit Iveco, took over the top job at Fiat Auto at the end of 2001, charged with pulling the cash-burning unit out of the red, but, as losses at Fiat Auto mounted, Italian media have been speculating that Boschetti may be replaced.

Reuters also noted that, on Thursday, Fiat group chief wxecutive Giuseppe Morchio praised Boschetti as a great manager, quashing a new round of media talk about his possible replacement.

According to Reuters, Automotive News said Salmon’s short-list included Mark Fields, 42, chairman and CEO of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, Martin Leach, 46, president and chief operating officer at Ford of Europe and Frederic Saint-Geours, 53, Peugeot’s managing director and member of its executive committee.