BEIJING -- Chrysler Group introduced a Jeep concept vehicle at the Beijing auto show last week designed specifically for the Chinese market.
But just when that model -- or any Jeep model -- will be produced in China is unclear. Talks continue with Chrysler's partner in China, Guangzhou Automobile Group, about localizing production of the Jeep brand.
Chrysler's joint venture is scheduled to begin production of a Chrysler model at a plant in the central China province of Hunan in a few months. That plant will have an annual capacity of more than 200,000 units.
Adding Jeep models would require additional capacity, said Mike Manley, Chrysler's COO for the Asia region and CEO of the Jeep brand.
There is room for expansion at the site, he said.
Manley made no secret of the fact that he would like to produce Jeep models in China as soon as possible.
But Chrysler wants to ensure that it shares a "common collective vision" of the brand with Guangzhou before pursuing domestic production, said Manley.
Chrysler has not applied to produce Jeep models in China. Automakers must get permission from the government to produce a model, and "approval can take some time," Manley said.
Chrysler now sells the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, Compass and Patriot in China. All are imported. As for future models, in an ideal world "a B-segment Jeep would do incredibly well here in China," Manley said.
Jeep sold 22,294 units in China last year. It has 110 dealers in the country and plans to have 150 by year end.
Sales in China's SUV segment have grown 46 percent annually in the last five years, said Manley, and represent more than 15 percent of passenger vehicle sales in China.
The Jeep brand has a long history in China and a loyal fan base.
Chrysler hosted an "Ultimate Journey" road trip to Burma in 2011 and has organized "Camp Jeep" events in rugged areas of China. Hundreds of Jeep owners participate annually in those events, says Chrysler.
Jeep is one of the most customized brands in China according to Yale Zhang, president of the Shanghai-based consulting firm Automotive Foresight.
The concept vehicle Chrysler is showing in Beijing, called the Jeep Wrangler Dragon, is a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon styled in the United States by a Chinese designer.
It's black with bronze-gold details and has 18-inch five-spoke wheels that are supposed to resemble dragon's claws.
The interior is more refined than the average off-road vehicle, with leather seats and a dragon pattern theme throughout, including laser-etched dragon patterns on the head restraints.
The Dragon Jeep could go into limited production in the United States if response is good in China, said Manley.