TOKYO -- Chrysler LLC expects the redesigned Grand Cherokee to boost sales in Japan at least 21 percent this year and help the company rebuild its bankruptcy-tattered image here.
Jeep brand’s top-tier SUV sold only 88 units in 2009 in Japan. But the company targets annual sales of 500 to 1,000 units when the overhauled Grand Cherokee hits Japanese showrooms March 12, Chrysler Japan President Toshiyuki Shimegi said.
That would lift Chrysler’s sales above 3,000 in Japan for 2011, from 2,350 last year, he said.
Chrysler, which sold 15,000 vehicles annually in Japan as recently as 1996, is slowly recovering from the 2009 bankruptcy reorganization that pinched budgets for overseas operations and bruised the American company’s image among Japanese consumers.
Total sales of Jeep, Chrysler and Dodge brands rose about 15 percent in 2010 in Japan. They were helped partly by the Tokyo government’s scrap incentives, which sparked demand for the Jeep Patriot. That vehicle, which sold 760 units last year, is Chrysler’s No. 1 model in Japan.
“Most of our investors need to be convinced we have the product,” Alessandro Saita, general manager for marketing, said of his dealers. “That’s been difficult over the past couple years.”
Aside from the Grand Cherokee, other new models will be slow to arrive. The next additions are expected to be the redesigned Chrysler 300C large sedan, in late 2011 or early 2012, and the Chrysler 200 sedan, possibly in 2012 or early 2013.
In Japan, the 300C is the only Chrysler car offered. The sole Dodge offering is the Nitro SUV.
Chrysler also aims to spur sales by slowly increasing its dealer network.
During Chrysler’s peak sales years of the 1990s, it benefited from a partnership that allowed it to sell through some 2,000 outlets in Honda’s dealer network. That relationship has long since ended. Today, Chrysler sells through only 29 dealers at 52 outlets.
It wants to increase the number to at least 55 locations by year end.