Special Coverage

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GENEVA – Chrysler Group is targeting a doubling of sales outside North America by 2011, says Thomas Hausch, executive director-international sales and marketing.

Last year, the auto maker delivered 207,000 vehicles outside its home continent.

Chrysler, riding high in Europe following 21 consecutive months of sales growth year-over-year, uses the auto show here as a platform for the European debuts of the Chrysler Sebring Cabrio, Jeep Patriot and Dodge Avenger, as well as the world introduction of the Dodge Demon concept car.

Hausch says Dodge sales in Europe have jumped 290% in the first two months of 2007 and it will be a race to see if Dodge or Jeep is the best-selling brand in Western Europe this year.

“I think Dodge will win, because it had the lowest base last year – we just launched the Dodge Caliber in the middle of the year,” Hausch says. “But if you look in absolute terms at the Jeep Compass and the Jeep Patriot, there is also some significant growth coming from the bottom of the SUV segment.”

In Europe, Dodge is winning over buyers from sporty, driving-oriented brands, such as Honda, Mazda and VW, he says.

Because of the explosive growth overseas, Hausch says Chrysler is exploring all regions it currently does not sell in, other than countries it is legally barred from or that put high tariffs on imported vehicles.

India’s 100% import tariff makes the market unfavorable for Chrysler to enter, for example. But Hausch says the auto maker could use a partner, such as China’s Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. or Volkswagen AG, to penetrate such markets.

No sales currently are planned for Russia. But Hausch leaves open the possibility the auto maker may assemble vehicles there and confirms it is studying such a scenario.

Chrysler President Tom LaSorda told Ward’s in an interview in November the auto maker was considering expanding its manufacturing footprint into Russia.

Currently, Chrysler sells in 125 markets outside North America.

Chrysler plans to build and sell small cars in China with Chery Motor Co. Ltd. Chrysler’s 300C launched local production last November and total Chrysler Group Chinese sales are up 96% year-to-date.

In Europe, Chrysler will offer the Sebring Cabrio with a diesel engine as well as a right-hand-drive option, the first convertible to offer these two configurations, Hausch says.

The Patriot, meanwhile, will be available with diesel or gasoline engines, and in left- and right-hand drive.

The summer marks the sales launch of the new Dodge Avenger in Europe, which offers a choice of four engines: a 2L diesel; 2L or 2.4L gasoline World Engine developed with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.; and a 2.7L V-6.

The Demon roadster was an opportunity for Chrysler’s designers to “think inside the box,” or do more with less, Vice President-Design Ralph Gilles says.

It is powered by a 2.4L all-aluminum engine.

Gilles says the interior of the car was inspired by British roadster makers of yore, Triumph and Austin Healy.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com