Maserati CEO Martin Leach is expected to leave the Fiat group early next week, according to industry sources. He would be the third Fiat group top executive ousted by CEO Sergio Marchionne in three weeks.

On February 2, Marchionne ousted Iveco heavy truck maker CEO Jose Maria Alapont, replacing him with Paolo Monferino, CEO of farm equipment maker CNH. Marchionne is now looking for an outsider to run CNH.

On February 17, Marchionne fired Fiat Auto CEO Herbert Demel. Marchionne added the Fiat Auto CEO role to his duties as CEO of the Fiat group.

Leach could soon end a short and much troubled relation with the Fiat group.

In August 2003, then Fiat group CEO Giuseppe Morchio hired Leach to replace Giancarlo Boschetti at the head of Fiat Auto. Leach had been fired as Ford of Europe president and COO on August 12, 2003. But Morchio wanted Leach freed by a two-year Ford non-compete clause by September 1.

Ford didn't free Leach and so Morchio opted for former Bosch, Audi and VW executive Herbert Demel for the Fiat Auto post. But Morchio didn't stop trying to get Leach to Italy.

In January 2004, a Detroit court ruled out Leach was fired by Ford and so the non-compete clause was unenforceable. Leach is seeking at least $US40.4 million from the automaker, claiming that Ford prevented him from taking the CEO job at Fiat Auto.

In spring 2004, Morchio decided to hire Leach as CEO of both Ferrari and Maserati, but Ferrari chairman and CEO Luca Cordero di Montezemolo opposed the move.

The power struggle was won by Montezemolo, who kept the Ferrari CEO post, also naming his racing team boss, Jean Todt, the new company COO. Morchio appointed Leach to head Maserati, but two days before Leach took over in Modena, on June 1, 2004, Morchio had left the Fiat group.

Leach prepared a new business plan for Maserati, which has been losing money since it entered the Fiat group in 1990.

Early this year, Montezemolo and Marchionne decided Maserati could not return to profitability as a junior brand to Ferrari, because it needs much higher volumes and a stronger industrial integration with Alfa Romeo. On February 16, Fiat group announced it will spin-off Maserati from Ferrari.

Automotive News Europe