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Wrangler to stay built only in U.S., exec says


Chrysler plans to expand the Jeep brand in foreign markets and make some models overseas, but chief executive Sergio Marchionne said Jeep Wranglers will not be made elsewhere.

The leader of Chrysler Group LLC sent a clear message to autoworkers in Toledo during an analyst's call from Brazil this week, declaring that -- despite his company's plans to push the Jeep brand around the world and a requirement to one day build Jeeps in China -- the Toledo-made Jeep Wrangler will remain a U.S.-made vehicle.

Speaking to analysts and reporters from around the globe during a conference call reporting Chrysler's second-quarter financial performance, Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both Chrysler and its Italian partner Fiat SpA, singled out the Wrangler as a vehicle most likely to be shipped to foreign shores. But it won't be made there.

"I think that the inescapable commitment that we will have to make to China is to produce Jeeps locally," in that country, Mr. Marchionne told analysts when asked about efforts to broaden the Jeep brand's global presence.

"I think we need to preserve some cars as not being produced there, and I think that the Wrangler, in all likelihood will continue to be sourced and manufactured here in the United States. It's too important of an iconic model within Jeep to be made elsewhere."

Mr. Marchionne made the statement as the automaker considers a potential investment into its sprawling Toledo Assembly complex, where the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Liberty, and Dodge Nitro SUVs are built in two assembly plants.

Last week the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued new modified air quality permits that were requested by Chrysler to allow for expansion of the Liberty and Nitro plant. Meanwhile, Jeep brand president Michael Manley said last month that he was concerned that the automaker's Wrangler plant, which can make about 155,000 vehicles per year, might not have enough capacity to meet global demand.

Indeed, through the first half of this year, Chrysler has sold 75,257 Wrangler and four-door Wrangler Unlimiteds worldwide, including 22,021 outside of the United States. Mr. Marchionne said this week that Jeep brand sales outside the United States had increased 54 percent so far this year to 148,000 units, up from 94,000 units during the same period in 2010.

"The only two brands that we can afford to develop internationally are Alfa [Romeo] and Jeep," Mr. Marchionne told analysts.

Besides Toledo, Jeep branded vehicles are made in factories in Detroit and in Belvidere, Ill.

Local union officials said the Chrysler chairman's comments and Jeep's overseas success as it is reintroduced to South America, Europe, and Asia add another level of job security for the men and women who build the iconic vehicles locally.

"In my view, to be a real Jeep Wrangler, it's got to be built in Toledo, and we're glad to see that [Mr. Marchionne] agrees," said Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, which represents the hourly workers at Toledo Assembly.

"Actually, it's a huge statement that he's made, because they're going to take that vehicle worldwide, and what he is saying is that all of those vehicles will be made right here in Toledo by the most productive work force in North America.

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