Globally, Chrysler said it sold 1.85 million vehicles in 2011, up 22 percent from 2010. The automaker said it had sales of 479,000 units during the fourth quarter, up 28 percent from the same period a year ago.
The annual profit came despite a $551 million charge in the second quarter to refinance its loans from the United States, Canada, and Ontario provincial governments. Chrysler, with the help of those loans, emerged from a brief stint in U.S. bankruptcy court under the control of Fiat S.p.A. in June 2009. Fiat now owns 58.5 percent of Chrysler.
Fourth-quarter revenues grew 41 percent to $15.1 billion. Revenues for 2011 were $55 billion, up 31 percent from 2010.
"The house is in good order. We are proud of the work we've done," Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement. "Now we greet a new year of high expectations with our heads down, forging ahead and focused on executing the goals we've set for ourselves as a company."
In a letter to employees today, Marchionne said Chrysler will give a "performance award" to eligible salaried and union represented workers based on the 2011 results.
"This is a reward that you have earned. You have been to hell and back, and you defied predictions of our demise," Marchionne said in the letter. "Your efforts rewrote the history that so many naysayers had forecast."
The company reported cash of $9.6 billion, up from $7.3 billion one year ago, and said it had a gross industrial debt of $12.5 billion at the end of 2011, down from the $13.1 billion it had at the same point in 2010.
In a letter to Chrysler employees today, Marchionne said that based on the company's 2011 achievements, "I am pleased to inform you that a performance award payment will be made to all eligible salaried and represented employees."
On a conference call with analysts after Chrysler's earnings announcement, the automaker's top executives did not disclose the size of promised performance bonuses to employees, but did deal with a variety of other issues.
Richard Palmer, Chrysler's chief financial officer, said half of the 400,000 additional vehicles Chrysler wants to sell in 2012 are slated to come from retail sales growth in the United States. The rest will come from international sales and added contract manufacturing for Fiat, such as the Lancia-badged versions of Chrysler brand vehicles.
Marchionne said Chrysler's improved relationship with suppliers is helping to hold down its production and development costs without having to remove content from vehicles.
"Decontenting efforts don't do much. Eventually, the consumer catches on," Marchionne said. "I think we've begun to see the first signs of a healthy relationship with the supply base that allows us to keep up with the cost structure."
Asked if Chrysler could continue to capture market share even as Asian automakers recover, Marchionne said Chrysler Group would continue to work hard and strive for further gains.
"I think we need to be cognizant that all of the competitive base is in a position to compete. We can't take anyone for granted," the Chrysler-Fiat CEO said.
Marchionne said that while Chrysler provided all of the profit for parent company Fiat during the fourth quarter, it was not a trend that he would allow to continue.
"I certainly have no intention of supporting that nonsensical arrangement. Somebody better get off their butt and snap to it, because we're not pulling the cart here," he said, adding that Chrysler financially supporting Fiat "cannot be a long-term solution."
Palmer said that Chrysler's fleet proportion of 28 percent was "still too high for our liking." He said that about three-quarters of its fleet sales were to rental car companies, and that the automaker wants to drive its fleet percentage down to 20 percent.
Asked for his thoughts on Chrysler's requested loans from the U.S. Department of Energy, which have yet to be awarded, Marchionne acknowledged the automaker could live without them, but would be at a competitive disadvantage if they were not approved. The loan program, approved in 2007, is designed to provide incentives to automakers to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles.
"I do not know today of a single project so far that's been postponed because of the lack of funding," the Chrysler-Fiat CEO said.
"I'm the only guy that's sitting over here that's paid back everything," he said in a pointed but unnamed reference to General Motors, which is still about one-third owned by the U.S. Department of Treasury. "I grew up in an environment where everybody got treated the same."
Marchionne said his interest in finding a third partner for Fiat and Chrysler continues, and has been echoed by other automotive executives. However, he added: "My phone has not been ringing off the hook here," he said.