Chrysler Group is putting more focus on international sales and less on its fleet business in the U.S. as it moves forward with its recovery plan under a new sales team put in place today.

The push internationally will concentrate on expanding sales in developing markets such as Russia, Southeast Asia and China, CEO Tom LaSorda says, and could involve new development partners “where it makes sense.”

Effective May 1, Steven J. Landry takes over as executive vice-president-NAFTA sales, global marketing, service and parts, and Michael Manley assumes the role of executive vice president-international sales, marketing and business development. Both join the Chrysler executive committee and report to LaSorda.

The two replace LaSorda, who assumed responsibility for group sales in December, when Joe Eberhardt left the auto maker after catching the ire of dealers, unhappy with Chrysler’s bloated inventories and strong-arm sales tactics.

At the time, LaSorda said the move was temporary, and in February he announced his intention to name a company insider as his replacement, although there was no hint of splitting the job in two to step up the assault on international markets.

Chrysler wants to double its international sales over the next five years, and “B- and C-segment vehicles will play a big role,” says Manley, citing Chrysler’s pending deal to purchase small cars from China’s Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. and “other alliances” that will help the auto maker serve those markets.

Manley says there is a “big opportunity” for Chrysler in China and other regions “not just through the launch of new brands and new products, but in strengthening our dealer body.”

Here in the U.S., Chrysler has efforts under way to reduce its daily rental sales by more than 70,000 units this year, with plans to continue whittling volume down in 2008 and 2009.

Landry says he wants to get overall fleet sales to 21% of Chrysler’s total vehicle deliveries, with rental units accounting for 15% of total volume, by the end of 2009, a reduction LaSorda calls “aggressive.”

“And that plan is in motion as we speak,” he says. “We spoke to dealers today (about the sales strategy) and they are extremely excited about it. Our inventory at the end of March is the lowest it’s been for some time, and dealer orders are where we want them to be.”

The fleet reduction is part of a broader effort to boost brand value, lower incentive costs and raise vehicle residuals.

“Each time we launch a new product, we are price-positioning it downward with our incentives to get the showroom price closer to the actual transaction price,” Landry says. “Our net price is slightly – less than 1% – lower than last year, which is good.

“The process (for) the next three years is volume down, residuals up,” he adds.

LaSorda says Chrysler also has revamped its entire advertising strategy in the last 100 days, with new Chrysler ads due to hit in the next 30 to 60 days and a new Dodge strategy to blossom in a “few more months.”

In addition to Landry and Manley, Chrysler promotes Darryl R. Jackson to vice president-U.S. sales; Michael J. Keegan to vice president-volume planning and sales operations; and Thomas Hausch to vice president-international sales. Jackson and Keegan report to Landry and Hausch reports to Manley.

Brian J. Schnurr is named director-Great Lakes Business Center, an operation previously overseen by Jackson.

dzoia@wardsauto.com