DETROIT, Michigan, In another sign of the U.S. auto industry’s recovery, Chrysler Group said Tuesday it plans to build a new sport utility vehicle for Italy’s Maserati in North America. Chrysler/Fiat Chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne said he had approved a plan to build a sport utility vehicle for the ultra-high end Italian luxury brand at the Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit. The Jefferson North Plant also builds the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango but is geared for export and recently shipping vehicles to China. The engine for the new Maserati SUV will come from Ferrari, one of Italy’s most revered brands, Marchionne said. Marchionne had talked in November about a Maserati SUV in North America but the Chrysler/Fiat alliance was still reviewing its options. “The decision has now been made” to go ahead with the project, Marchionne told a small group of reporters from the U.S. and Canada who were attending the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The automaker added nearly 5,000 jobs last year as it recalled works to Jefferson North, Sterling Heights and other manufacturing site and to staff the company’s technical center in Auburn Hills, Marchionne said. The company also is expected to hire 1,000 engineers this year to work on rebuilding and refining the company product line, he said. Chrysler brought out 16 new or revamped vehicles in 2010 but has more new products in the pipeline. Marchionne said he believed Chrysler did not need two full-size minivans. The Chrysler Town & Country will remain a full-size minvan but the Dodge Caravan will be given a radical makeover and reduced in size to create a new niche, he said.
He also said he is looking a ways to add a small light-duty truck to the Jeep line. The truck could be based on the Wrangler or a unibody design, which would eventually replace the Dodge Dakota, which costs as much to build as a full-size Ram, he said. Chrysler also is pushing ahead with plans to replace the Jeep Liberty with a new vehicle based on a Fiat platform. The Liberty is scheduled for replacement within the next two years. Chrysler also plans to introduce a new compact car to replace the Dodge Caliber at next year’s North American International Auto Show. Marchionne also said he expects Chrysler to become the first manufacturer in North America to offer a nine-speed transmissions to customers ZF, one of Chrysler’s key suppliers, said Tuesday its has developed the world’s first 9-speed automatic transmission for vehicles equipped with a transversely mounted engine.