The replacement for the Fiat Multipla (top) will be coming to the U.S.; Jeep's new Grand Cherokee SUV (middle) could underpin future Alfa Romeo and Maserati models: while the U.S. specification Fiat 500 (bottom) will be sold through a dealer network that has now appointed its first 135 franchisees.

During a conference call following the announcement of Chrysler Group’s third quarter earnings results, CEO Sergio Marchionne made a number of claims relating to the plans for future Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati models.

Significantly, Chrysler Group reduced its net debt to $84 million for the quarter, down from $172 million during Q2, and saw its sales rise 5.2 per cent. This led Marchionne to this week revise upwards all the previously-stated full-year targets – he estimates full-year sales are on track to hit the $42 billion mark, while also commenting that an IPO should be on track for the second half of next year.

During the conference call, Marchionne made a number of claims about future model introductions that could bear Fiat Group nameplates, including that the new Jeep Grand Cherokee platform could be used to underpin future Alfa Romeo and Maserati models. “One of the things that we are now looking at in some detail is the possibility of utilising this architecture and extending its application for additional products both within Chrysler and outside Chrysler,” Marchionne, who is both CEO of Chrysler Group and Fiat Group, said.

The new Grand Cherokee has been a much-needed hit for Chrysler Group – now fully on-stream within the U.S., it helped the large SUV model’s sales to bounce by 291 per cent year-on-year (to 12,721 units) during October, and provide the groundwork for a wider-ranging rise that saw the Jeep brand’s sales as a whole up 111 per cent in the U.S. for the month just gone. The platform, which is shared with Daimler-Benz, has already been previewed in its second application, as a ‘sportier’ SUV for the Dodge brand, under the revived Durango nametag. While there are no plans at present to develop a Chrysler version (to replace the Aspen), leveraging the platform further for Alfa Romeo and Maserati would slot it into Marchionne’s fundamental philosophy of broadening its possible uses as far as possible, to facilitate cost-saving economies of scale. He added that Fiat and Ferrari would not use the Jeep platform.

During the conference call, Marchionne also reaffirmed plans for the new L0 class minivan, which is set to replace the Fiat Idea and Multipla on European markets, and which is proposed – somewhat controversially – to be manufactured at the former Zastava Auto factory in Serbia, instead of in Italy as originally planned. It will come to the U.S. as a second showroom model for the new Fiat dealer network. This model, likely to be based on the ‘Small’ platform, will take its main visual cues from the smaller 500, allowing for a homogenised two-model range to be developed Stateside. There is little prospect of the new Fiat dealers turning a profit with just one model range, the 500, so a second option is necessary, particularly as Chrysler Group has forced the new dealers to invest in more expensive standalone facilities to sell the Fiat brand. Marchionne also revealed that 135 Fiat dealers have now been chosen and are in the process of receiving contracts. More than 500 applications have been received so far for the 165 slots (Marchionne noted the “balance” of the Fiat dealers were currently being finalised), while a further 50-70 Fiat dealers will open in Canada this year.

Marchionne also confirmed that the new C-Evo platform, which has made its first production application this year in the C-segment Alfa Romeo Giulietta, will be used by the Chrysler Group for the first time to replace the long-dead Dodge Neon, tentatively during the first quarter of 2012.

Alfa Romeo, which has a bare future at present as it continues to edge slowly towards a sale to the VW Group, was given very little comfort by Marchionne during the conference call. A much-talked-about plan to build an E-segment luxury sedan for Alfa Romeo (often dubbed the 169), alongside a sister model from Maserati, was put to bed during the conference call, although in reality this model was never anything more than Fiat Group spin and plans for the 169 didn’t even appear in the most recent Fiat Group investor presentation unveiled in Italy in late April. Asked about plans for this model, Marchionne was non-committal during the conference: “To be honest with you, I still don’t like the style,” he claimed. This theoretical model, which had been linked to production at Chrysler’s Ohio plant, was supposed to be signed off this year to hit its 2012 on-sale ‘target’, but Marchionne reckoned that a decision to green-light the project was still six to nine months away. He revealed that little effort appeared to have been committed to the project so far by saying, “Until we get that (the style) right, I’m not sure we’re going to commit capital. The car needs work, it’s not ready.”

The CEO also denied recent Italian newspaper reports that the giant Mirafiori factory in Turin would be spun off into an entity partially controlled by Chrysler Group. “Expect Chrysler products to be made by Fiat and Fiat products to be made by Chrysler,” Marchionne told the conference call. “I think we are working very hard to get that done for the benefit of both. But there’s not going to be a shift of plants from one organisation to the other.”

© 2010 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed