China deal would likely not change Belvidere ops, Chrysler still mum

By Jim Hagerty

BELVIDERE — While questions whether a deal with a Chinese company would revisit Chrysler’s Daimler-nightmare swirl, there are still no details of a possible sale.

The deal would see Chrysler Fiat sell off its Jeep line to Great Wall Motors, a Chinese company that makes SUVs. Both companies have confirmed Great Wall is interested in Jeep but no offer has been made.

Of course, selling a brand to an overseas buyer would not be Chrysler’s first time getting into bed with a foreign car maker. Before Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne came in and pulled Chrysler out of the mire, the company was under siege from the Great Recession and its messy 2007 divorce from Dailmer. Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, sparking concern whether it would continue to exist. Marchionne, however, had bigger plans, and even once attempted to merge Chrysler with General Motors to go head-to-head with Ford, the only American car maker to avoid bankruptcy during the 2007-2009 banking collapse.

Reports now show that Jeep is not only a popular brand, but strong enough to stand alone as it did before becoming part of the now defunct American Motors in 1970 and the Chrysler family in 1987. Jeep is currently valued at about $24 billion and sold 1.4 million vehicles in 2016, to Great Wall’s 1.1 million.

Much of the local speculation about how a sale to Great Wall would affect those at the Belvidere Assembly has centered about the cancellation of a meeting between Marchionne and other Fiat Chrysler leaders in Belvidere.

Sources told The Times Tuesday that the Jeep line was brought to Belvidere to position it for a sale, possibly to a company in China or France. Great Wall has also expressed interest in buying plants in Mexico, the sources said.

However, Chrysler currently manufactures Jeep vehicles in China through a third-party, which could ruffle some feathers within the Chinese government. Regardless, sources say the Belvidere plant is poised to continue as an integral hub for Chrysler. If a deal with the Chinese does not happen, Jeep would continue as Chrysler’s signature line. But a sale would help Marchionne shift his attention to the now stand-alone Ferrari.

While Fiat Chrysler has declined to comment since denying it is mulling the sale, a Great Wall spokesmen said Tuesday the company is only studying FCA, but nothing has been formally proffered.

“The company has not built any relationship with the directors of FCA nor has the company entered into any discussion or signed any agreements with any officer of FCA so far,” Great Wall said in a statement to stock experts.

Times’ sources added that FCA will likely sell some of it brands within the next five years, yet did not specify which would be dealt.

The Belvidere Assembly Plant is one of 19 U.S. Chrysler plants. Before assembly of the Jeep Cherokee, which began earlier this year, the Jeep Compass was built at the facility from 2007 to 2016. Since 1965, the plant has overseen production of the Dodge Dart, Chrysler New Yorker, Dodge/Plymouth Neon, Dodge Omni and Chrysler Imperial. R.

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