Chrysler's managing director in the UK, Peter Lambert, has paid the price for a slump in the brand's British sales by leaving on the eve of the American brand's formal separation from its former German partner Mercedes tomorrow (1 November).

Chrysler volumes dropped 18% in the first nine months of this year and were off 27% in September while Dodge's UK introduction has faltered with a 10% slip in registrations during September compared with the same month last year.

Lambert, formerly marketing director for Mercedes' van unit, who took over at Chrysler UK in June last year, admitted: "I am no longer the managing director of Chrysler Group UK. I can say nothing due to contractual issues."

He added: "I am on gardening leave although officially I step down on 1 November when the two former DaimlerChrysler organisations formally separate."

A former colleague said: "Peter is philosophical about leaving and knows that he is carrying the can for lack of sales success and product identity. The more senior you are the greater the consequences."

Chrysler's global operations are under the control of private equity group Cerberus, which bought a majority share in the American automaker from DaimlerChrysler, now known as Daimler AG.

British Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers have privately expressed disquiet about customer confusion over the variety of models, particularly four-wheel drive vehicles, which straddle the ranges.

A recent dealer convention in Las Vegas discussed rationalising the product lines. Last year, Chrysler sold just over 11,500 cars in the UK, up 26% on 2005 but well adrift of the 18,000-unit tally in 2001.

The UK has traditionally been a top-three European Chrysler market, last year taking second place behind Italy and ahead of Germany.

Lambert said there was a "remote possibility" he could return to Mercedes, and hoped his Chrysler legacy would be a "credible and dedicated fleet operation, where none existed before, which helped get products like the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Caliber taken seriously."

Simon Elliott, who Lambert replaced as Chrysler MD, will run the British operation on an interim basis.

He has just returned from China where he was in charge of sales, marketing and dealer network development.

Hugh Hunston

Mercedes-Chrysler split official

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