Building a Maserati SUV in Detroit is testimony to how highly Fiat regards Chrysler's workforce and marks another step toward a more complete integration of the two companies, CEO Sergio Marchionne said Tuesday.
Over the last two years, Chrysler has launched the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs at its Jefferson North Assembly Plant, and both have become top sellers for the company.
Marchionne confirmed Tuesday that Jefferson North workers will build the Maserati luxury SUV much like the Kubang that made its North American debut Tuesday. Production is expected to begin in 2013.
Marchionne also announced plans to expand a plant in Mexico to build Ram commercial vans, and he denied a report that Fiat and Chrysler are considering an alliance with France's PSA Peugeot Citroen.
"We are getting a lot of confidence in the ability of that plant (Jefferson) to make superb products ... without having to apologize for the fact that it is Michigan-based," Marchionne said.
In fact, Marchionne argued that the decision to build the Maserati in Detroit has the potential to break myths about the kind of cars and trucks that U.S. automakers can produce. Maserati is owned by Fiat, which owns 58.5% of Chrysler.
Marchionne said the SUV will be exported worldwide with a planned annual sales target of 20,000. In the U.S., the Kubang will compete with the Porsche Cayenne, of which Porsche sold 12,978 in 2011.
Last week, Chrysler announced plans to add a third shift of 1,100 workers at the Detroit next year to support production of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a new diesel version of the Cherokee and the Dodge Durango.
Those numbers do not include additional workers that will be needed to assemble the new SUV. Marchionne said the company is still calculating the number of additional jobs that production of the Kubang will generate for the plant.
The Kubang will have the same underbody as the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It also will be renamed, but a new name was not announced.
The Kubang's power will come from a new engine that Ferrari will build in Modena, Italy. An eight-speed automatic transmission will transmit power to all four wheels. The suspension, steering, brakes and electronics are being developed by Maserati engineers in Italy and will be unique to the brand.
Regarding an Italian newspaper report of a potential tie-up between Fiat and PSA Peugeot Citroen, Marchionne said, "There are no ongoing discussions," although he acknowledged having dinner Monday night with Peugeot Chairman Philippe Varin.
Still, Marchionne said most automakers will continue to be under pressure to consolidate, especially in Europe.
"The view that we pitched back in 2008-09 is as valid then as it is today," Marchionne said about Peugeot.
Marchionne also said Monday that Chrysler is planning to expand its assembly plant in Saltillo, Mexico, to produce Ram commercial vans. The automaker produces Ram 1500 light-duty pickups and heavy-duty pickups at the Mexican factory.
The front-wheel drive commercial van, which will be based on the Fiat Ducato, will be launched in 2013 as a Ram model, Marchionne said. Fiat shares the platform with Peugeot.
"It's a unique vehicle; it's incredibly successful in Europe," Marchionne said. "It's designed perfectly to try and deal with the segment here in the U.S."
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