By Phil LeBeau, CNBC Correspondent

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- After more than a year of quietly taking important steps to get Chrysler breathing again, CEO Sergio Marchionne is making it clear this is the year the company will take some big steps. Today in Italy, Marchionne said it's possible Fiat could increase its ownership stake of Chrysler to 51% this year. If it happens, it will mark yet another important milestone in the rebirth of Chrysler.

I'm not sure people appreciate how close to death Chrysler was when the White House stepped in to bail it out.

The reason many in the Obama administration wanted to kill it is because it was a money losing auto maker with a stale line-up and no pipeline.
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Fiat was the only game in town, and since taking control of Chrysler, Marchionne has guided a slow but steady turnaround. No, it's not yet back in the black, but it's close and will be there soon.

So why is 2011 so important? With a recovering auto market and a fresh lineup rolling into showrooms, Chrysler finally has a chance to truly win over buyers. Last year (through November), Chrysler boosted sales 16.5%, with Jeep sales shooting up 23.4%. Not bad considering the industry was up just 11.1%. And that's with just a fraction of Chrysler's refreshed or new line-up in showrooms.

By the second half of this year, we can expect to see a Chrysler IPO.

A move that will let Marchionne and his team further exercise the steps still needed to rebuild the auto maker.

Yes, it's not all wine and roses. The company still has some challenges to overcome, including a fleet that still skews heavily towards trucks and SUVs. Not optimal with gas prices rising.

But Marchionne knows Chrysler needs to change and not slow down. That will be front and center as he pushes the auto maker towards bigger and better things in 2011.

-- Written by Phil LeBeau of CNBC
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