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CEO: Fiat is driver of Chrysler's success

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Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne speaks at the 2012 North American International Auto Show media preview in Detroit.

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DETROIT — It might not be the greatest love story of all time, but two years into the marriage between Chrysler Group LLC and Fiat SpA, the chief executive officer of the two automakers can't imagine them apart.

"I don't understand Chrysler without Fiat and I don't understand Fiat without Chrysler," Sergio Marchionne told a group of reporters Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"There are a number of things that have been totally induced, totally driven by Fiat. That car you see outside wouldn't have existed, not in the time frame we're talking."

Mr. Marchionne was talking about the new Dodge Dart, which is based on a Fiat platform and includes some Fiat-sourced powertrain components.

Mr. Marchionne said he sees two brands with true global potential: Alfa Romeo and Jeep. Of the two, only Jeep is there, he said.

RELATED ARTICLE: Chrysler looks to accelerate small car market with Dart

PHOTO GALLERY: 2012 Detroit Auto Show

Fiat SpA took a stake in Chrysler in 2009 and recently increased its ownership share in Chrysler to 58.5 percent.

In the free-wheeling, hourlong session, Mr. Marchionne broadly outlined how the company plans to reduce the number of platforms across its brands while staying true to the characteristics that made each brand what it is today.

"Look at the way in which we're managing Jeep, and the fact that we've preserved all the trail-rated capabilities of Jeep in every car we make; that's a hell of a statement. When you devise the architecture for Jeep, you've got to make allowance for that to happen," he said.

That is potentially good news for Jeep enthusiasts ahead of the upcoming replacement to the Toledo-built Liberty model.

He offered few details on that upcoming sport utility vehicle, which will be based on Fiat architecture, though he did say production should start no later than the third quarter of 2013.

"The car is all set," he said, without delving into any design or mechanical details.

He did say he prefers a name change and seemed to be leaning toward returning to Cherokee.

"I don't have a Cherokee. I have a Grand Cherokee. Whenever you build things that are grand, you assume there is one that is not. My first degree was in philosophy," he joked.

Answering a question about the poor sales of the Fiat 500 in North America, Mr. Marchionne said the company isn't rethinking its decision to launch the small car here, but he admitted it was "incredibly naive" to predict sales of 50,000 in the first year.

"We missed the number of Fiat by about 24,000," he said.

Mr. Marchionne expects the Fiat 500 to sell 25,000 to 30,000 units a year in the United States and an additional 5,000 in Canada going forward.

Mr. Marchionne spoke at a media preview for the auto show, which opens to the public on Saturday.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.

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