Chrysler Readies the Dodge Dart as Jeep Rolls On

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Things are going so well for Chrysler that at the New York Auto Show the automaker unveiled the fifth generation of its high-performance Viper.

"That says the company is feeling confident again," said Karl Brauer, CEO of auto comparison site "A company doesn't build halo cars when it's barely staying alive."

As Ralph Gilles, CEO of Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology team, put it in a prepared statement, "We simply would not let the performance icon of the Chrysler Group die" ... (even during) "a gut-wrenching period of uncertainty."

The auto show opened the day after automakers reported sales numbers, which in Chrysler Group's case included a 34% gain and the best monthly sales since March 2008. Jeep sales rose 36% while Chrysler brand sales rose 70%.

Year to date, Chrysler Group sales are up 39%, Chrysler brand is up 85% and Jeep brand sales are up 35%.

"Chrysler volume is growing even before the Dodge Dart, which will likely be its No. 1 vehicle, goes on sale," Brauer said. "The Dart is a good small car, and that's where volume comes from."

Of the top 10 selling U.S. vehicles in the first three months, three -- the Ford ( F) Focus, the Honda ( HMC)Civic and Toyota's ( TM) Corolla -- are compact cars.

Jeep sales rose 44% in 2011, when Chrysler Group sales rose 26%. In 2010, Jeep sales rose 26% and Chrysler Group sales rose 17%.

"We have good products and we have great alignment with our dealers," said Jeep CEO Mike Manley, in an interview. "We made a number of product improvements, and we refreshed all of the models, and we spent a lot of time on marketing to make sure we had a consistent marketing message."

Today, Jeep is looking at expanding its manufacturing to China and India, but it has committed to always build the Jeep Wrangler in Toledo, Ohio, where Jeeps have been made since the 1940s.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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