DETROIT - Chrysler Corp. will rely mainly on its pickup trucks and Jeeps to expand in emerging markets, President Tom Stallkamp said in an interview last week.
The proposed merger with Daimler-Benz AG will accelerate the expansion plans, due to the German company's operations outside Europe and North America.
'Our product line of trucks probably lends itself to faster expansion than fighting it out in the very competitive small-car business,' Stallkamp said.
There is less competition with trucks in new markets, and Chrysler's Jeep brand is recognized around the world, he said.
Minivans and the Neon also will play a role in the automaker's global strategy. Known as the Chrysler Neon in the international marketplace, the small car has an advantage over competitors, he said.
'Neon is a very spacious car for its size class,' Stallkamp said. 'That's why in Venezuela it's doing well. It outsells the Toyota Corolla in many months.'
Venezuela was Chrysler's biggest single international market in 1997, with sales of 20,716 units. Europe remains Chrysler's best region overseas, with 105,918 sales in 1997.
To reduce the investment in
a new pickup truck plant in Brazil, Chrysler will use a rolling chassis supplied by Dana Corp. Dodge Dakota pickup trucks will be assembled in the plant. Production is scheduled to start in early July.
While the rolling chassis concept will work in a small-volume plant in Brazil, it is unlikely to work in a high-volume plant in the United States, Stallkamp said.
A rolling chassis essentially is the frame, driveshaft, axles, brakes and suspension.
'A rolling chassis really fits into keeping our footprint of that plant small and expandable,' Stallkamp said. 'I don't see that in North America, except for maybe specialty vehicles. It's mainly a volume problem more than a labor issue. If you imagine 900 rolling chassis a day rolling into a plant, just logistically it's kind of hard to do.'
The rolling chassis will bring per-unit cost down, increase local content and allow Chrysler to share investment costs with suppliers as the automaker heads into new countries, Stallkamp said.
'I don't see it really happening in the U.S. or Canada, but I do see it around the world,' he said. 'It will allow us to get to volume faster.'
While many manufacturers are using larger modules - preassembled parts of a vehicle, such as a rear suspension - he said there are limits.
'I personally believe that you can make modules too big and put too much money into the transportation of that module,' he said. 'I also believe, aside from some experiments like Volkswagen has in other countries, our customers want to have a vehicle assembled by our workers.'
He added: 'I'll never buy one interior from one guy.'