Chrysler Considers New Pickups, ‘Mini-Minivan’ to Win Buyers

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne
Chrysler and Fiat Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said Chrysler is “toying with the idea of a mini-minivan.”. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Chrysler Group LLC is considering two new pickups, a seven-passenger Jeep and a smaller minivan, showing the automaker is willing to spend money to widen its product lines and draw in new customers.

Chrysler, as part of a five-year turnaround plan, has a goal of boosting global sales to 2.8 million in 2014 following a 15 percent gain to 1.5 million last year. The automaker, controlled by Fiat SpA, has introduced 16 redesigned or refreshed vehicles in the past year.

The possible models disclosed this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit signal that Chrysler, about 18 months after leaving bankruptcy protection, is making needed investments in new vehicles, Aaron Bragman, an analyst with IHS Automotive, said in an interview yesterday.

“They have to have that kind of investment in the product, fleshing out the product lines a bit more than they are,” said Bragman, whose company is based in Lexington, Massachusetts. “It’s a good sign. It shows that they are not reigning everything in and keeping all of the money close to home.”

Chrysler, based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, is considering a midsize Ram pickup to replace the Dakota, which will cease production around the end of the third quarter, said Fred Diaz, head of the truck brand.

“It’s not going to be the beast that the Dakota truck is,” Diaz said, who added that the vehicle would have a different name.

Truck Requirements

The truck would be aimed at drivers who want the utility of a pickup and don’t need the towing capacity of a larger Ram model, Diaz said. Consumer research shows the pickup needs to have room for four people, look aggressive and get good gas mileage without being “wimpy,” he said.

The design is still under consideration, and the company hasn’t formally decided whether to produce it, he said.

Chrysler’s Jeep unit is “very seriously” considering a pickup based on the line’s Wrangler sport-utility vehicle, said Mike Manley, head of the brand.

“With that platform, it’s something you could bring to market relatively quick,” Manley said in a Jan. 10 interview at the auto show.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both Chrysler and Fiat, said the U.S. automaker is “toying with the idea of a mini-minivan.” When asked if Chrysler was considering eliminating one of its similarly styled Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans, Marchionne said the company will keep two “people-mover vehicles,” though they might not be duplicates like the two current models.

‘Wider Difference’

“We need to be able to drive a wider difference,” he said.

Consumers want spacious vehicles that get good fuel economy, said Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s head of design. While he declined to talk about the specifics of a possible new vehicle, he noted “the mini-minivan is all the rage” in Europe.

Chrysler also is planning to introduce a Jeep Grand Wagoneer in 2013, which will be a seven-seat, top-of-the line SUV, Marchionne told reporters Jan. 10.

Jeep has a history of seven-passenger SUVs, Manley said.

“For me it makes a great deal of sense,” he said yesterday. “I’m very excited about that possibility.”

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