Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

Chrysler LLC will pursue aftermarket sales more aggressively and better exploit promising vehicle segments to fulfill the second phase of its turnaround plan, the auto maker’s top executive says.

Having set a course for growth by reducing inventory levels, eliminating poor-selling products and enhancing those that remain, Chrysler will focus on its Mopar parts brand and developing vehicles such as the Dodge Chassis Cab lineup.

“We currently get just over 20% of our potential aftermarket service and parts business,” Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli says in a keynote speech to open the New York International Auto Show and webcast by Chrysler. “That means we have a huge opportunity for growth in this area. Our Mopar brand has long been a part of our muscle-car heritage, but we’re reaching out now to the off-road enthusiasts who live the Jeep lifestyle.”

Offerings will include a special off-road navigation system, chrome grille and a heavy-duty bumper.

The launch of the ’07 Dodge 3500 Chassis Cab marked the brand’s return to the segment, and the vehicle immediately captured a 29% share, Nardelli says.

This momentum is continuing in Class 4 and 5 with the introductions of the Dodge 4500 and 5500 models, he adds.

Nardelli also expects Chrysler’s first hybrid-electric vehicles to break new ground when hybrid versions of the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen fullsize SUVs debut this year. The auto maker also will migrate its 2-mode hybrid system to the Dodge Ram pickup, followed “within the next few years” by vehicles equipped with mild-hybrid technology.

“We are also extending our business through innovative new technologies,” Nardelli says, promising a segment-first blind-spot monitoring system for its minivans and an industry-first “rear cross-path system” for detecting vehicles approaching from the side at near-90-dgree angles.

The third aspect of Chrysler’s turnaround plan involves expanding the auto maker’s global sales reach.

On the heels of a record year in which Chrysler sold 238,000 vehicles outside North America, the auto maker’s sales were up 10% through February, compared with like-2007. February also marked Chrysler’s third consecutive month of international-market sales growth.

“By 2012, we plan to increase our international sales to more than 400,000 units,” Nardelli says.

To achieve this goal, Chrysler is “regionalizing” its business by establishing a stronger physical presence where its markets, dealers and customers are located.

“We’re also doing that in Asia,” Nardelli says. “Last fall, we brought onboard Phil Murtaugh, one of the most highly regarded businessmen in the region, to head up our Asian operations. And, beginning this summer, Chrysler will also expand its sales, marketing and services operations in Europe.”

The auto maker will take a similar approach to product development by establishing “centers of excellence” around the globe. These engineering and design operations will leverage cost advantages where they exist, while also tapping into consumer tastes unique to their respective regions.

Also expect Chrysler to add dealers to its international network, Nardelli says.

emayne@wardsauto.com