Chrysler Group Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne waded into the presidential campaign Tuesday saying that suggestions by Republican candidate Mitt Romney that the automaker will move Jeep production out of hotly contested Ohio are wrong.
A Romney ad running in Ohio says Obama “took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China.”
Both automakers underwent brief bankruptcy restructurings financed by the federal government in 2009 after other sources of financing to reorganize and sustain the companies became unavailable during the recession.
Noting that Chrysler production plans for Jeep had entered the public debate, Marchionne said, “I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China.
“Jeep is one of our truly global brands with uniquely American roots. This will never change. So much so that we committed that the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio plant, will never see full production outside the United States,” he continued.
“Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand,” Marchionne said. “It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”
Many political analysts believe Ohio and its 18 electoral college votes will determine the winner of the presidential campaign. Recent polls in the state vary between showing the candidates tied and President Obama with a small lead.
The executive, who also runs Italian automaker Fiat, which has a controlling interest in Chrysler, also said that North American production is critical to achieving Chrysler’s goal of selling 800,000 Jeep vehicles by 2014. He is known for his blunt speech and verbal sparring with the heads of other automakers.
He said Chrysler will invest more than $1.7 billion to develop and produce the next generation Jeep sport-utility vehicle, the successor of the Jeep Liberty. That includes $500 million at the automaker’s Toledo factory. Marchionne also said Chrysler will add 1,100 jobs at the plant next year.
“With the increase in demand for our vehicles, especially Jeep branded vehicles, we have added more than 11,200 U.S. jobs since 2009. Plants producing Jeep branded vehicles alone have seen the number of people invested in the success of the Jeep brand grow to more than 9,300 hourly jobs from 4,700,” he said.
Chrysler does plan to launch Jeep production in China to supply the vehicles it plans to sell there.
Marchionne’s comments come a day after Chrysler said profits soared in the third quarter, helped by a remake of its product lineup and the introduction of the Dodge Dart compact sedan.
The Auburn Hills, Mich., automaker said its net income rose 80% to $381 million compared with the same period a year earlier. Revenue rose 18% to $15.5 billion.