FRANKFURT -- DaimlerChrysler's U.S. arm the Chrysler group can match its 2004 performance this year despite tough conditions in the automotive sector, its chief executive told a newspaper.
"We are confident that we can have similar success as in 2004 thanks to our young model range and our cost structure," Dieter Zetsche told German paper Die Welt in an interview published on Friday.
The U.S. arm of the world's fifth-biggest carmaker had an operating profit of $1.80 billion (1.43 billion euros) in 2004.
The entire group has forecast it can boost operating profit slightly -- excluding the cost of restructuring its loss-making Smart minicar division -- from the 5.75 billion euros it generated last year.
Zetsche said Chrysler's top priority was profitability, but added it expected to increase unit sales as well from the 2.78 million cars and trucks it sold last year.
"In six to eight years we want to increase our unit sales by around 1 million compared with now," he said, citing Europe and Asia -- particularly China -- as growth areas.
Zetsche, a German who has headed Chrysler since 2000, said the group's goal was to get Chrysler among the top three in all categories of the car business by 2007 so that it would perform as well as the market leader even in tough markets.
"We have a clear goal: We want to be the benchmark for the American auto industry by 2007," he said.
Zetsche said Chrysler had been working for 4 1/2 years to disassociate itself from the traditional perception of it as one of Detroit's Big Three together with General Motors and Ford.
"This is even more urgent given the regrettable development at GM and Ford because the concept of the Big Three has come to be associated with a loser's image in the meantime," he said. "I think we have already made good progress on this path."