Revitalised Chrysler vows to keep foot on the gas

JUST a few years ago, as it plunged into bankruptcy, Chrysler was a wreck of a company. But strong sales and hot new products have made the automaker the envy of the US car industry.

JUST a few years ago, as it plunged into bankruptcy, Chrysler was a wreck of a company. But strong sales and hot new products have made the automaker the envy of the US car industry.

And Chrysler's unlikely revival is accelerating, leaving General Motors and Ford scrambling to catch up.

Chrysler, the smallest of the US automakers, kicked off the annual Detroit auto show on Monday with new versions of its Grand Cherokee and Compass SUVs. The two Jeep models have helped propel sales growth since its government bailout and bankruptcy in 2009.

Chrysler outperformed the industry last year with a 20.6 per cent increase in domestic sales in a market that grew 13.4 per cent. Its bread-and-butter products such as the Grand Cherokee and Ram pickup had big gains, and new cars such as the Dodge Dart began to mitigate the company's traditional reliance on larger vehicles. By comparison, sales increased just 3.7 per cent at GM and 4.7 per cent at Ford.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of both Chrysler and its Italian parent Fiat, said he expected Chrysler's upward sales trend to continue this year, particularly in pick-up trucks and SUVs.

"I think there's a general feeling that the US market is in healthy shape," he said. "And we're certainly going to improve in the market."

When he negotiated Fiat's acquisition of Chrysler during its federal bailout, industry executives were sceptical that the US company could thrive after the failures of its previous owners, German carmaker Daimler and private-equity firm Cerberus.

Now, however, "it's not Fiat saving Chrysler; it's Chrysler saving Fiat," said David Cole, a founder of the Centre for Automotive Research.

The New York Times

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