Auto/Economy
4:33 pm
Mon January 9, 2012

CEO Marchionne "delighted" with Chrysler's performance, but big tests still ahead

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is striking an upbeat note about the US auto industry—and Detroit—at this year’s Detroit Auto Show.

Detroit’s smallest automaker posted the biggest gains in 2011, with sales soaring 26 percent.

In fact, Chrysler is now doing better than Fiat, the Italian automaker that helped rescue Chrysler from the brink of collapse in 2009.

Marchionne says despite Fiat’s current troubles, it’s helped Chrysler’s new product line. He says its newly-unveiled compact car, the Dodge Dart, is “the first tangible result of the collaboration between Fiat and Chrysler."

“That architecture did not exist within Chrysler," he said. "There were things that were brought over as part of the dowry into Chrysler, that allowed Chrysler to do many things, including being present in the largest retail segment in the United States.”

Marchionne also emphasized Chrysler’s commitment to a resurgent Detroit, noting “We want this town to come back.”

Chrysler recently made big announcements about two plants in Detroit: that it would add a third shift at one the Jefferson North Assembly Plant, where it makes the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Durango, and re-open the Conner Avenue Assembly plant to make the new Dodge Viper.

“We have worked very closely with the state, and in particular with the city, to really bring back Chrysler, but with a very clear view of helping the city in that process," Marchionne said. "We like this town.”

But Chrysler still faces some big hurdles—including fully merging with Fiat and launching more products that blend the two lines.

Marchionne said most of that big stuff will happen in 2013. That’s also the earliest possible date for a Chrysler public stock offering.