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Ousted GM Marketing Chief Makes Unexpected Reappearance at Fisker

Joel Ewanick will serve as “interim” marketing chief.

by on Nov.27, 2012

During his heyday, former Hyundai and GM marketing chief Joel Ewanick was hailed as a major game-changer.

Joel Ewanick, the high-profile marketing chief ousted in a sudden shake-up at General Motors earlier this year has resurfaced at Fisker Automotive where he will serve as the battery-car start-ups interim global sales and marketing chief.

The 52-year-old executive will work in a consulting role while Fisker searches for a permanent replacement for automotive industry veteran Richard Beattie, 58, who will retire.  It’s the latest in a series of unexpected management changes at Fisker, which has been struggling to gain momentum with its Karma plug-in hybrid after a slow launch and a series of subsequent recalls and other problems.

“As we seek to appoint a long-term successor, there is no one better than Joel, with his wealth of motor industry experience and knowledge to guide us through this interim period. I am delighted to welcome him to the Fisker team,” said Posawatz.

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Posawatz, who himself only joined California-based Fisker two months ago, had significant experiencing working with Ewanick in an earlier part of his career. A General Motors veteran, Posawatz played a lead role in the development  of the maker’s own plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt.  Marketing the breakthrough product was one of the most challenging assignments for Ewanick after joining GM in mid-2010.

The marketing executive has worked for several manufacturers during his career, including a short stint at Nissan, but he initially made his name as a change agent for Hyundai Motor America, helping transform the brand’s image from a maker of tinny econoboxes into a mainstream segment leader.

Ewanick was brought in by GM CEO Dan Akerson to help revive the Detroit maker’s image following its 2009 bankruptcy and federal bailout – a challenging task considering GM became a poster child for the debate over policies, including the bailout, during the recent presidential election.

During his roughly two-year tenure, Ewanick actively shook up the traditionally staid Detroit marketing environment, among other things firing long-time Chevrolet ad agency Campbell-Ewald.  He notably pulled GM advertising from Facebook days before the social media site’s much-watched IPO. But it appears to have been a decision to pull ads from the Super Bowl and instead focus on European soccer – with a massive tie-up with Britain’s legendary Manchester United – that led to Ewanick’s departure.

Company officials have yet to confirm details, but sources generally agree that Ewanick over-stepped his authority with the soccer deal and apparently tried to cover his tracks afterwards.

Many industry analysts thought the boyish-looking executive would be unable to get new work in the auto industry, but some confidants were betting his talent would eventually lead some auto company to take the risk.

Fisker, however, was not high on the list of those observers might have pointed to.

The company, started by Danish designer Henrik Fisker, produces a line of luxury plug-in hybrids. But the Fisker Karma got off to a slow start and has since been recalled twice due to battery problems. The car has also been linked to several fires, one of which was the result of a defect. The source of the second fire remains under investigation.

Meanwhile, the sleek electric sports car has received both raves and sharp criticism from various sources.  It has won several car-of-the-year honors but was panned by influential Consumer Reports magazine.

Due to the delay in getting the Fisker Karma to market, the Department of Energy put a hold on a government loan the maker was hoping to tap to bring its second, more mainstream model to market. Fisker claims it has raised significant private equity since then and still hopes to get the Atlantic plug-in to market, though the project has been delayed until at least 2014.

It is unclear how much Ewanick will do in his interim role at Fisker, or how long he will stay. But any long-term role would likely see him come up with “some creative and distinctive” marketing efforts, said a former associate and admitted admirer who asked not to be identified by name.

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