GENEVA – Some view the departure of Wolfgang Bernhard from the post of chief operating officer at the Chrysler Group as a huge void the auto maker must overcome.

That is not the case for Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche, who will assume a more direct role in the auto maker’s future product development.

Zetsche plans to relinquish some of his operational duties to incoming Chief Operating Officer Tom LaSorda, while some of the marketing and forecasting function will fall to Joe Eberhardt, Chrysler’s senior vice president-global sales and marketing.

“Clearly Wolfgang’s departure opens a void, (but) at the same time Tom LaSorda is responsible for what we accomplished on the manufacturing side, Zetsche tells Ward’s at the auto show here. “(He also made) a significant contribution to the accomplishments on the quality side.

Chrysler Group CEO
Dieter Zetsche

“I have no doubt that he will just take it where Wolfgang left it, as far as the operational side is concerned. As far as product is concerned, Tom certainly has somewhat less experience, but that is a great opportunity for me. I will obviously take over what Wolfgang will leave. I am very comfortable about the strengths of the team.”

Zetsche also views Benhard’s appointment at Mercedes-Benz as a strong sign of approval from corporate parent DaimlerChrysler AG. “It is a great thing for the Chrysler Group to know that if you perform at Chrysler there are no limits to your development (within DaimlerChrysler). We are proud at Chrysler about that nomination,” he says.

An engineer by trade, Zetsche relishes taking a more direct role in product development as opposed to the mundane activities required of CEOs.

“I am not a guy in the first place who would like to represent the company at conferences and government dinners, but I always will,” he says. “This (change) is nothing but good for me, because I really enjoy being able to shift my focus (toward product development) over time.”

He also casts doubt on naysayers who believe Bernhard’s departure spells an end to the development of mold-busting designs, such as the Chrysler ME Four Twelve supercar concept and the Dodge Tomahawk concept motorcycle.

Says Zetsche: “I am confident that we will not fall short of expectations.”