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Jeep to expand into India by end of 2015

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will begin selling Jeeps in India before the end of 2015, said Mike Manley, the automaker’s head of international operations and Jeep.

Last summer, the automaker decided to postpone plans to launch Jeep in India because of currency fluctuations and because the company wasn’t ready, Manley said.

“I am completely confident for 2015,” Manley said Thursday at Chrysler’s proving grounds in Chelsea, Mich.

Gaining a foothold in India is important for Jeep because it is an emerging market and it is trying to be a global brand. Meanwhile Ford, Hyundai, Honda, Maruti Suzuki and Toyota are far ahead there.

India can be a difficult place for new competitors. Reports surfaced Wednesday that Volkswagen may restructure its operations in India for its Skoda brand, which accounted for less than 1 percent of India’s auto sales.

“It’s an intensely competitive marketplace. In recent years a huge number of global OEM’s have increased their production,” Manley said. “We see pricing as being very difficult.”

The Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler will be the first products offered in India. FCA is looking for 15 to 20 dealers in India’s major cities as it establishes a dealer network.

Eventually, FCA wants to produce Jeeps in India. Manley said the company has some production capacity available at a factory near Pune, a joint venture Fiat has with Tata Motors. Manley said there is enough excess production capacity there to begin building some Jeeps.

“If you are going to be successful with Jeep, you are going to have to localize vehicle production in India,” Manley said.

FCA has been working for the past five years to expand Jeep’s global sales both through exports and by producing cars in overseas markets. Earlier this year, Chrysler completed a joint venture with Guangzhou Automotive and plans to begin producing the Jeep Cherokee in China by 2015.

Production of the subcompact Jeep Renegade is expected to begin this fall in Italy. Manley said the company expects to begin selling the Renegade in Europe before the end of this year and in the U.S. early next year.

Jeep sold 731,565 SUVs globally in 2013 and, Manley said, it is on track to sell more than 1 million this year.

Mcclatchy-Tribune News Service

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