TURIN – Fiat Auto SpA President and CEO Giancarlo Boschetti reportedly will be replaced as soon as a successor is found.

Giuseppe Morchio, CEO of parent Fiat SpA, is conducting the search, says news weekly magazine L’Espresso, published in Rome. The report has neither officially been denied nor commented on by Fiat. (See related story: Fiat Cutting 12,300 Jobs as Part of Latest Turnaround Plan)

Boschetti was expected to be replaced late in June, but insiders say the company has yet to find “the right guy for the job,” despite shopping the position around to Italy’s most-talented executives.

Fiat SpA CEO Giancarlo Boschetti

Boschetti had hoped to retire from Iveco SpA, Fiat’s truck-making arm, two years ago, but was convinced to accept the top spot at Fiat Auto so as not to disappoint the past honorary chairman, the late Giovanni Agnelli. Well-informed sources say Boschetti is eager to retire.

Meanwhile, Fiat Auto officials appear to be practicing some damage control. The auto maker has embarked on a new initiative to create consensus and confidence in its business by inviting suppliers, dealers and the media to spend a day in discussions about the auto maker’s new products and programs.

Guests are given the opportunity to drive some of the new cars to be launched within the next 12 months or so. The vehicles include the new Alfa Romeo 156 cross/utility vehicle, due to be launched next year; the new Alfa Romeo GT coupe, to be equipped with a new 1.9L turbodiesel engine; and the Fiat Idea and Fiat Gingo.

Fiat Auto’s overall sales have slipped about 11% in the year’s first six months. The Alfa Romeo brand declined about 2%, while Fiat brand sales are down 12.4% and the Lancia brand has fallen 11.4% year on year.

Nevertheless, Italians are buying new cars at a reasonable but steady pace. Through the year’s first six months, new-car registations totalled 1,237,400 vehicles, down a nominal 0.12% from like-2002’s 1,238,851.

The Citroen brand was the clear winner, with passenger-car sales climbing 74.5%, to 72,301 units from year-ago’s 41,432, according to Ward's data.

Nissan followed with a jump of 21%, to 32,362 from year-ago’s 26,230. Ford took third with an 18% rise to 115,213 cars from 97,487 in like-2002.

Among smaller players, Mazda Motor Corp. passenger-cars sales led with 6-month sales increasing 75%, to 6,366 units from 3,630.