Chrysler Group LLC’s Jeep, the sport-utility vehicle brand that had record sales last year, is looking at a truck variant of its Wrangler model as the U.S. manufacturer broadens its line-up.
Chrysler, majority-owned by Italian carmaker Fiat SpA, is planning a next-generation Wrangler in 2016 that may include a pickup version, Jeep President Mike Manley, 49, said in an interview yesterday at the Geneva auto show. The Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company also is discussing a new SUV larger than its Grand Cherokee, Manley said.
“I’m a big fan of a Wrangler-based pickup,” Manley said. The U.S. market would probably be the main source of demand for the model, followed by the Middle East, he said.
Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne, who also leads the Turin-based parent company, is positioning Jeep as one of the Fiat-Chrysler group’s global brands by adding production of its SUVs in China and Russia. Marchionne, 60, also is adding Jeep output in Italy, where Fiat is seeking to fill capacity that’s not being used amid slumping demand for cars in Europe.
Fiat is relying on Chrysler to sustain earnings as Marchionne works to end losses at the Italian manufacturer’s mass-market brands in Europe that widened to more than 700 million euros ($913 million) last year. Marchionne reiterated yesterday that Fiat plans to boost trading profit, or earnings before interest, taxes and one-time gains or costs, to as much as 4.5 billion euros in 2013 from 3.81 billion euros last year.
Fiat told investors in New York last month that developing Jeep models for Europe and other international markets to “fully flesh out” the brand was among its top objectives. Included in those plans is a small Jeep that will be built at Fiat’s Melfi plant in southern Italy alongside a Fiat-brand crossover called the 500X.
“For us to continue to grow, we now need to make sure that we cover all of the SUV segments that are open to us,” Manley said. “You’re seeing the growth in the small, B-segment SUVs, which we don’t play in today.”
Jeep’s worldwide sales last year climbed 19 percent to 701,626 SUVs, Chrysler said in January. The brand topped its previous record of 675,494 deliveries set in 1999. Jeep’s U.S. sales rose 13 percent to 474,131 vehicles, accounting for 68 percent of the 2012 global total.
The small Jeep SUV, the Grand Wagoneer and new variants of the Wrangler such as the pickup version would “give us the coverage that we need,” Manley said.