Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Chrysler Group LLC, increased the pressure today on the automaker’s surging Jeep brand by predicting it will top 1 million sales worldwide this year.
That’s a faster growth rate than Mike Manley, Jeep’s president, forecast in an interview yesterday. He said reaching the 1 million milestone in 2014 would be a “stretch” and was more achievable in 2015, due in part to the fast start of the new Cherokee.
“We are going to break the million mark this year,” Marchionne said today in an interview on WJR-AM radio at the Detroit auto show. “When you start talking about 1 million in 2014, we have really taken that brand a long way, and there’s a long way to go.”
Jeep global sales reached a record 731,565 last year and shipments have more than tripled since 2009, Manley said. Getting the maker of sport-utility vehicles to the automaker’s 1 million target by 2015 would have been quicker than Manley had expected, he said. Yet last year, Marchionne, also CEO of Turin, Italy-based Fiat SpA and who is combining the two automakers, predicted that Jeep possibly would reach 1 million in 2014.
“If the new Cherokee is successful here and in international markets, we should be able to take a big chunk out of that remaining 300,000 we need for the million,” Manley said yesterday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “It’s a stretch to say we would do it in ’14, but if not in ’14, we should certainly be on track in ’15.”
When asked about Marchionne’s aggressive sales goals for Jeep yesterday, Manley joked about the pressure he is under.
“I think Sergio’s talked about the 1 million target, I’ve been trying not to talk about it,” Manley said.
U.S. sales of the Cherokee are 15 percent to 20 percent ahead of Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler’s expectations after two months on the market, he said. The Cherokee name is returning after last being used for a Jeep model in 2001. Manley said consumers haven’t been turned off by the new model’s styling, which was criticized by reviewers such as Motor Trend magazine for its protruding grille and three rows of headlights.
“What I hear is, ‘When I saw it in the pictures, I wasn’t sure I liked it or I didn’t like it. Now I’ve seen it and I’ve walked around it and I’ve seen it on the streets and I’m kind of liking it,’” Manley said.
Cherokee is among the new models that pushed Chrysler to 45 straight monthly U.S. sales gains from year earlier. That streak will continue this month, Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s U.S. sales chief, said in an interview.
A full year of Cherokee sales along with a subcompact Jeep to be built in Italy and introduced in Europe later this year will push the brand past 1 million deliveries globally, Manley said.
“In 2009, worldwide we shipped 276,000 and in 2013, I shipped 780,000, a multiple of three times,” Manley said. “Now of course, we have an all-new vehicle with Cherokee and in the back end of this year in Europe, the baby Jeep, and then that will come in 2015 for us here in the States.”
Fiat is expanding Jeep’s lineup with vehicles such as the still-to-be-named small model and adding production in Europe, Brazil and China, the world’s largest auto market, he said. Jeep’s global sales rose 4 percent last year, the brand’s fourth straight annual gain. U.S. sales account for 67 percent of the brand’s deliveries.