It makes sense that the Chrysler group has its eye on overseas markets, now that the automaker is back on stable, profitable footing in North America.
Chrysler products - mostly minivans and Jeeps - are sold in 125 foreign markets where the distinctly North American vehicles have a niche appeal. The Chrysler 300 also is finding buyers overseas who like the car's big American presence.
Overseas sales should climb as the automaker launches models with more truly international appeal, such as the 2006 Dodge Caliber 5-door hatchback that was shown this spring at the Geneva auto show. Adding more diesel engines to the lineup and building more right-hand-drive models should help, too.
The biggest challenge is China, where Chrysler must expand its lineup. Chrysler is best known there for the venerable Beijing Jeep, which was one of the first foreign vehicles built there.
The Beijing Jeep joint venture goes back two generations and two predecessor companies to American Motors, which launched Beijing Jeep in 1984. The company still produces versions of the old Grand Cherokee, the ancient Cherokee and a couple of variant Jeep models, not to mention two Mitsubishi SUVs, for a total of about 34,000 units last year.
The Chrysler group exports 300C models to China and could build them there if and when the big bruisers catch on with business people and/or bureaucrats.
It's not like corporate parent DaimlerChrysler is averse to investing in China. This summer, the automaker and its Chinese partner, Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings Co., will begin building a couple of Mercedes-Benz models there, with plans to build vans in another factory later.
But for the North American brands to grow in China, DaimlerChrysler probably will need to build them there, too. Especially passenger cars. That's because Beijing Jeeps aren't enough to offer to the ever-more sophisticated Chinese consumer.
You still see Beijing Jeeps on the road, but compared with some of the competition, they look really old. And the Chinese know it.
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