Chrysler Group LLC’s Jeep, the automaker’s top-selling brand, set a record for global deliveries in 2012 as demand for models such as the Grand Cherokee strengthened in the U.S. and almost doubled in Asia.
Jeep’s worldwide sales last year climbed 19 percent to 701,626 sport-utility vehicles, the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company said in an e-mailed statement. The brand topped its previous record of 675,494 set in 1999.
Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, who also leads Chrysler’s majority owner Fiat SpA, plans to expand Jeep’s global presence by adding production of its SUVs in China, Russia and Italy. Marchionne, 60, has cited consumer awareness of Jeep as motivation for positioning its lineup as one of the main global brands for the Fiat and Chrysler group.
“We’ve strengthened our distribution channels internationally and we’ve made Jeep the lead global brand for Chrysler,” Mike Manley, president of Jeep brand and head of international operations for Chrysler Group, said by telephone. “We did some really good product innovations. Grand Cherokee started it all in terms of the rebirth of the brand.”
Manley, who is also chief operating officer for Fiat and Chrysler in Asia, said he expects to announce a deal early this year to add local production of Jeep in China to supply buyers in the world’s largest auto market. Fiat’s joint-venture partner in China is Guangzhou Automobile Group Co.
Jeep last year sold 474,131 vehicles in the U.S., up 13 percent from a year earlier and accounting for 68 percent of the 2012 worldwide total. In the U.S., Jeep was the No. 2 selling brand for Chrysler Group behind Dodge’s 524,989.
Chrysler also plans to introduce a replacement to its Liberty midsize SUV midway through this year and offer a new diesel version of the Grand Cherokee.
“That’s a big, big segment,” Manley said of the Liberty’s replacement. Of all Jeep models, “Liberty has been kind of the weakest from a mass-market perspective. That will get corrected.”
Jeep’s Wrangler SUV set a global record of 194,142 last year, trailing only Grand Cherokee at 223,196. Deliveries of the Compass compact SUV also rose to a record 103,321. Manley said Liberty has been in a “niche” position.
Fiat said in December that it will invest more than 1 billion euros ($1.31 billion) to build Jeep- and Fiat-badged compact SUVs at an Italian factory as part of an initiative to boost capacity usage and end losses in Europe. The Turin, Italy-based carmaker also is finalizing a deal in Russia to introduce local Jeep output for that market.