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Deal may send Jeep back into China

By Brent Snavely

Detroit Free Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15 2013 9:40 p.m. MST

DETROIT (MCT) — With strong name recognition and now a respected Chinese partner, Jeep is ready to get back in the thick of the world's largest auto market.

On Tuesday, Fiat and Chrysler Group announced a deal with Guangzhou Automobile Group that is expected to lead to resumption of Jeep production in China for the first time since 2006.

The Chinese government must approve the deal before the partners can build a compact Jeep SUV by the end of 2014 and several more models in the next five to 10 years.

"From my perspective, we need to get to production as soon as possible," said Jeep CEO Mike Manley.

In 1983, Jeep became the first U.S. automaker to sell vehicles in China. But Chrysler's former owner Daimler pulled out of the country in 2006.

China has become the largest automotive market in the world and any automaker with ambitions of being a global player must have a manufacturing presence there.

In 2012, 19.3 million cars and trucks were purchased in China, or nearly 5 million more than in the U.S. Jeep sold 73,697 SUVs in Asia last year — a 94 percent increase over 2011, but it is only a minor player.

Chinese regulations require that Western automakers that wish to produce vehicles in China do so with a joint venture partner. Guangzhou, which has joint ventures with Toyota, Honda and Fiat, is among several state-run automakers.

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