Maserati to Build SUV in North America

Chrysler Group said Tuesday it plans to build a new sport utility vehicle for Italy's Maserati in North America.

Chrysler/Fiat Chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne said he had approved a plan to build a sport utility vehicle for the ultra-high end Italian luxury brand at the Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit.

The Jefferson North Plant also builds the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango but is geared for export and recently shipping vehicles to China.

The engine for the new Maserati SUV will come from Ferrari, one of Italy's most revered brands, Marchionne said.

Marchionne had talked in November about a Maserati SUV in North America but the Chrysler/Fiat alliance was still reviewing its options.

"The decision has now been made" to go ahead with the project, Marchionne told a small group of reporters from the U.S. and Canada who were attending the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The automaker added nearly 5,000 jobs last year as it recalled works to Jefferson North, Sterling Heights and other manufacturing site and to staff the company's technical center in Auburn Hills, Marchionne said.

The company also is expected to hire 1,000 engineers this year to work on rebuilding and refining the company product line, he said.

Chrysler brought out 16 new or revamped vehicles in 2010 but has more new products in the pipeline.

Marchionne said he believed Chrysler did not need two full-size minivans. The Chrysler Town & Country will remain a full-size minivan but the Dodge Caravan will be given a radical makeover and reduced in size to create a new niche, he said.

He also said he is looking a ways to add a small light-duty truck to the Jeep line.

The truck could be based on the Wrangler or a unibody design, which would eventually replace the Dodge Dakota, which costs as much to build as a full-size Ram, he said. Chrysler also is pushing ahead with plans to replace the Jeep Liberty with a new vehicle based on a Fiat platform. The Liberty is scheduled for replacement within the next two years.

Chrysler also plans to introduce a new compact car to replace the Dodge Caliber at next year's North American International Auto Show.

Marchionne also said he expects Chrysler to become the first manufacturer in North America to offer a nine-speed transmissions to customers ZF, one of Chrysler's key suppliers, said Tuesday its has developed the world's first 9-speed automatic transmission for vehicles equipped with a transversely mounted engine.

"Already a leader in technically advanced, fuel-saving multi-speed transmissions for rear-drive vehicles, ZF's new 9-speed enables significant fuel economy improvements and delivers excellent performance characteristics for front-wheel-drive vehicles," said Hans-Georg Harter, ZF's President and CEO.

Groundbreaking for the new South Carolina factory takes place next month and ZF expects to introduce the new transmission for front-drive vehicles in 2012.

Similar to ZF's 8-speed automatic transmission used in rear-drive platforms, the new 9-speed delivers extremely short response and shifting times that are below the threshold of perception.

That means double shifts and direct multiple gearshifts occur without the driver or passenger noticing.

Sophisticated electronic controls select the right gear for the driving conditions, eliminating unnecessary "stepping" -- or constant shifting. In this regard, the 9-speed carries the same precise, sporty attributes found in ZF's transmissions for rear-drive vehicles, including excellent shift characteristics, immediate response to input and exceptional smoothness.

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