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CHRYSLER GIVES NARDELLI KEYS

The ousted CEO of Home Depot, who has no auto background, embraces his challenge.

Robert L. Nardelli, officially named as Chrysler's new chief executive, said Monday that he wanted to move faster and more efficiently with the turnaround strategy meant to revive the struggling auto company.

Nardelli, ousted in January as chief executive of Home Depot amid shareholder discontent over his enormous pay package, added that his task was to prove that manufacturing and the automobile industry "is part of America's future, not its past."

Nardelli took charge at Chrysler as the company gathered employees to celebrate its independence from Daimler, the German automaker that bought it in a 1998 merger for $36-billion.

On Friday, Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, closed a deal to buy Chrysler for $7.4-billion.

For Nardelli, the appointment provides an opportunity to burnish his reputation, which was damaged by a contentious relationship with shareholders at Home Depot and his departure with a severance package worth $210-million, some of it to offset benefits lost when he was hired from General Electric.

But Nardelli made scant mention of that at a news conference Monday morning, and Chrysler executives focused on his experience at GE, where he was known as an operations specialist.

Nardelli said he planned to stick with a restructuring plan, rolled out on Valentine's Day, which called for Chrysler to shut an assembly plant in Newark, Del., and eliminate 13,000 jobs by 2009.

For Detroit, the hiring brings a high-profile executive to one of the most closely watched and politically sensitive automotive jobs at a critical moment for the U.S. auto industry, which continues to lose market share to Japanese automakers.

At the news conference, Nardelli acknowledged that he did not have automotive experience, but stressed his years dealing with industrial and transportation issues at GE, where he had risen to run its power systems business.

"While I'm new to Chrysler, and new to the car industry, manufacturing and transportation is a business I know, I like, and I grew up in," said Nardelli.

Nardelli's entire compensation package will be based on Chrysler's performance; he will not be paid if the company, which lost $1.5-billion last year, does not improve, people with knowledge of his appointment said.

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