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Chrysler, Volvo exit Southland

March 08, 2008|Ken Bensinger | Times Staff Writer

The nation's largest car market, Southern California, is losing two major automobile operations.

Chrysler said Friday that it would close its Pacifica Advanced Product Design Center in Carlsbad to reduce costs.

Separately, Volvo of North America, a subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., said it would abandon its Irvine headquarters in favor of Rockleigh, N.J., by the end of the year.

"We have evaluated the situation in the U.S. market and decided to consolidate our headquarters operations," said Gerry Keaney, senior vice president of marketing, sales and service for Volvo. The company said that the move would affect fewer than 80 employees.

The departures are a blow to the auto industry of Southern California, which after Detroit holds perhaps the nation's largest concentration of car-related businesses.

Volvo shares its Irvine location with Land Rover and Jaguar, which are also units of Ford. But those two divisions are expected to be sold to Indian company Tata, which may have prompted Ford's decision to move Volvo back East. Volvo arrived in Irvine in 2001 after 45 years in New Jersey.

Chrysler's exit is more of a surprise. The Pacifica Design Center, as it's known, is one of two Chrysler design studios that focus on futuristic models that could be 15 to 20 years from production. It's a small operation, with fewer than 10 designers and a total staff of about 25 people.

The location is considered Chrysler's "skunkworks," where some of its most exotic designs are developed, including the Jeep Willys concept car. The design center also played a role in developing the new Dodge Challenger and the Chrysler 300. It opened in the early 1980s, the first California design studio of any of the Detroit carmakers.

Chrysler said the studio would be consolidated with the Advance Design Center in Auburn Hills, Mich.

The company, which was acquired by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management last year, is facing slumping sales and has announced major cost cuts.

Although California has little car manufacturing anymore, it is a worldwide center for car design, and designers for major automakers work in the Los Angeles area.

"Almost every car company has some sort of design representation here," said Bob Martin, an analyst at Car Lab, which consults on design and marketing for the industry.

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ken.bensinger@latimes.com

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