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Chrysler steps up 2011 launches

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Chrysler steps up 2011 launches

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

Chrysler Group LLC is on pace to accelerate key product launches in 2011, including its family of compact cars engineered by partner Fiat SpA, said Sergio Marchionne, CEO of both automakers, in a conference call today.

In November, Chrysler said it would bring Fiat's compact or C-segment vehicle underpinnings to Chrysler as the basis for a family of cars and crossovers. Currently Chrysler does not have a sedan in this size but has a trio of crossovers: the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass and Patriot.

"That's been done," Marchionne said of migrating the engineering to Auburn Hills, where design work is complete enough that the new cars have been shown to focus groups.

"We are 98 percent there on styling," Marchionne said. The styling could be frozen in 45 days, meaning the design is complete and received the necessary approvals to release it to engineering.

The expectation is the new cars could be on the market as early as the fourth quarter of 2011, Marchionne said.

Initially a new sedan for the Chrysler and Dodge brands was due in 2012 followed by a single Jeep crossover in 2013 to replace both the Compass and Patriot.

There has been no acceleration of plans for launches planned for the rest of this year.

The rollout began this weekend with the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee to be followed by upgrades of the Jeep Wrangler and Patriot in the third quarter and climax with updated versions of much of the lineup in the fourth quarter. By year-end, 75 percent of the portfolio will have been significantly changed, Marchionne said in a call with investors to provide more detail into previously released first-quarter earnings that include an operating profit of $143 million.

The first batch of Grand Cherokees produced for sale have come out of the Jefferson North plant in Detroit, which will build up inventory for distribution to dealers in mid-June. An advertising and marketing campaign will begin at that time.

Marchionne has said the vehicle and launch must be perfect, and today he confirmed that is the case and he is comfortable all technical issues have been resolved.

"The best of Chrysler today is reflected in the vehicle. I feel we have launched a flawless vehicle."

The CEO described the all-new flagship Jeep as "a significant step forward from where the last product was and the basis to rebuild the Jeep brand on a global scale."

The SUV also has the company's first all-new Pentastar V-6 engine built in Trenton, Mich.

Marchionne said at full production the automaker will make 800,000 V-6s annually, half in the U.S. and half in Saltillo, Mexico. All will take advantage of Fiat engine technology, including Multiair and turbocharging to make the engines more fuel efficient with fewer emissions.

Chrysler also will debut Fiat's 1.4-liter, inline four-cylinder engine with Multiair technology in North America this year.

Asked about his first 10 months on the job at Chrysler, Marchionne called it a "great experience" despite the fact he "lived through hell in the first months."

"We have been pretty quiet and will continue to be that way," he said, preferring to let the new products coming be the main focus.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100510/AUTO01/5100398/1148/auto01/Chrysler-steps-up-2011-launches#ixzz0nYKvAvVh

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