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Sergio promises updated Chrysler product plan next week

CEO Sergio Marchionne says enough changes have been made to Chrysler's 2009 product blueprint to warrant a redraft. “What has not changed is the financial objectives,” he says. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

DETROIT -- Sergio Marchionne said he will update the five-year product plan that the automaker laid out in November 2009 when Chrysler Group announces its earnings Wednesday.

Speaking to Automotive News last week during the Detroit auto show, the Chrysler-Fiat CEO said that enough changes have been made to the original product roadmap to warrant a redraft.

"We'll repitch it when we do the analysts call," Marchionne promised. "What has not changed is the financial objectives."

I can only hope that the "repitched" plan will be as detailed and nugget-filled as the original presentation, which laid out plans for potential future engine displacements, segment entries and platform sharing.

The 2009 presentation -- greeted with cynical skepticism and even derision from some quarters at the time -- has started as time has progressed to look as though it were penned by Michel de Nostradame. For example, Chrysler remarkably met or exceeded its aggressive global delivery targets in each of the plan's first three years.

But like the famous French quatrains, there are some product predictions remaining in the plan that have yet to materialize and others now being considered that didn't appear. For example:

Ram's "Lifestyle" truck. A natural successor to the now-departed Dodge Dakota, the mid-sized unibody pickup was supposed to show up in 2011. It never arrived, and the brand's leaders will say only that such a vehicle remains under study.

Jeep's Grand Wagoneer. An ultraluxury, super-big Jeep didn't make the initial product plan, but it has been openly discussed for several years to probe the upper limits of consumer demand for Chrysler's most valuable brand.

Subcompact Dodge and Chrysler cars. They were supposed to come from Fiat, but so far, they're no-shows. It could be that executives are understandably concerned that rebadged subcompact Fiats won't do anything for their respective brands. Or maybe it's the fact that Europe today is where the United States was in 2009.

Minivans or something similar. Chrysler's frequent and frequently changing pronouncements on the future of the segment it invented have turned into an Olympic dithering match. Maybe next week, we'll get a final answer, instead of just the latest answer.

'Cuda be a Challenger. The rumor mills have been working overtime -- thanks in part to design head Ralph Gilles' ever-flowing Twitter feed -- on a slimmed-down successor to the Dodge Challenger and the re-introduction of a smaller Barracuda. They say to look for a new supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, dubbed the Hellcat, to power at least one of the beasts.

All of this is just conjecture, of course. As longtime Chrysler watchers know, nothing's official until it's official. But with some luck, the guy on top who likes making the decisions may be ready to make such a declaration Wednesday morning.

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