Chrysler Group boss Tom LaSorda declares U.S. market share growth to be his primary sole focus as he fills the void left by exiled marketing chief, Joe Eberhardt.

“That’s my whole focus: U.S. retail,” LaSorda tells journalists at a holiday gathering. “Internationally, we’re up 14% year over year. So it’s U.S. retail, and it’s virtually 100% of my time.”

After recording its best November in five years, Chrysler held a 12.9% share of the U.S. market. But that is down from year-ago’s 13.7%.

The auto maker’s president and CEO says he’s working “night and day, seven days a week, whatever it takes” to boost Chrysler’s position. He also is trying to mend fences with dealers.

Under Eberhardt, that rapport had eroded, Chrysler insiders admit. As volatile gas prices turned the market against Chrysler’s truck-heavy lineup, inventories ballooned and dealers believed Eberhardt – who once led one of the nation’s top Mercedes stores – was unsympathetic to their plight.

LaSorda has tried to restore some kinship in recent days, jetting around the country to meet with some dealers, while telephoning others. He’s even taking a proactive approach to advertising.

But LaSorda denies dressing down Chrysler’s longtime agency, BBDO Detroit. “That was misreported,” he says, referring to news stories indicating he had laid down the law.

He admits visiting the agency.

“It was a very, very open dialogue about, ‘Hey, you guys are our partner,’” LaSorda says, claiming he asked the agency’s creative team to “make sure consumers know my products and my brands and draw them to my showroom.”

LaSorda previewed a new crop of ads. “The ones they showed me, I liked,” he says.

“I’m just a straight-shooter. Something I like, you might not like. That’s a business you’ve got to leave to creative marketers. That’s what I told them.

“I saw one on our new Sebring and it’s absolutely going to be a knockout in the marketplace. I said, ‘That’s what we’re looking for. Make sure you’re focused on product and not winning awards.’”

Meanwhile, as LaSorda reassures dealers of Chrysler’s commitment to them, he also is busy crafting a restructuring program for unveiling in the first quarter.

“Our (2006) capacity numbers won’t be anywhere where we want,” LaSorda warns, noting Chrysler enjoyed 94% capacity utilization in 2005.

That score was good enough to rank third among the Big Six auto makers, right behind Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., according to the Harbour Report.

“We’re going to look at capacity to determine where it should be, going forward. That’s part of our plan,” he says.

Asked about the prospect of prolonged shutdowns, LaSorda says: “If there are any plans like that, we’ll announce it when I announce the rest of the plan.”

The rumor mill has been working overtime on the issue of Chrysler’s capacity. Speculation has several plants shutting down for extended periods after the holidays, but such moves still have not materialized.

emayne@wardsauto.com