Monday, March 10, 2008

Chrysler may build vehicles in Russia

GENEVA — Chrysler LLC aims to double vehicle sales outside North America by 2012 with help from an assembly plant in Russia.

Chrysler is negotiating with at least two automakers to build vehicles there and wants to make a deal this year.

Last year, Chrysler sold 238,000 vehicles outside the United States, Canada and Mexico. It sold 5,636 vehicles in Russia last year, up 40.2 percent from 2006.

"I would not rule out going into Russia and installing our own manufacturing facility or our own capacity," said Mike Manley, Chrysler's head of sales, marketing and business development. But the preferred choice is to "find a partner that has excess capacity or is looking for a partner."

"We are talking with some potential people," said Manley, who was interviewed at the Geneva auto show.

Russia's auto sales are booming and so are its auto suppliers.

"The supplier base in Russia is developing tremendously," Manley said. "The more manufacturers that are localized, the quicker you can get your production up and running. The time horizon I'm looking at for localization would be over the next two to four years."

Manley did not name models but said vehicles the size of the Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Caliber or smaller would be assembled in the plant.

He also said vehicle decisions are being made from a global sales perspective. Models might be dropped from the United States but sell outside North America. For example, despite talk that the Jeep Compass could be dropped in the United States, the small crossover sells well in Italy.

The Jeep Liberty SUV is Chrysler's top seller outside North America. Next year, Manley expects the new Dodge Journey crossover to be the No. 1 seller.

Manley expects sales outside of the NAFTA region to double in about four years. Chrysler has about 1,600 dealers outside North America and wants to boost that by 15 to 18 percent this year. The main regions targeted are China and countries in Asia, eastern Europe and Latin America.

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