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Jefferson North is producing one of Chrysler's showcase cars, the $60,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, with a 470-horsepower bruiser under the hood and European luxury on the inside. In Fiat's view, it's a car that can conquer Mercedes and Range Rover customers, so it had better be perfect. It's also one that Fiat can sell globally in its own showrooms. It has plans to double Jeep sales by 2014.
The first totally new car of the Fiat-Chrysler combination will arrive next year, when Dodge debuts a new C-class car to replace its dopey Caliber sedan. The Dodge Dart will seek to combine Italian engineering with Dodge's sports-car heritage. Based on the platform of Fiat's upmarket Alfa Romeo Giulietta, though wider and longer for American roads, it's all in all a much sexier compact than anything Chrysler has ever designed.
Marchionne has pledged to invest $23 billion to develop new cars for Chrysler through 2014, all of which can be adapted by Fiat wherever it makes sense--for instance, as platforms for Fiat's Lancia brand. It's a ton of product in a relatively short period, and some analysts are openly doubtful he can pull it off in a slower-growth, highly competitive economy.
Those doubts are not present within Chrysler or Fiat. "Leadership is not a quantitative thing. People either smell it in you or they don't," says Marchionne. "People need to trust you that you're going to pull them out and that they will follow you when you pull them out. If they don't get that comfort, they're going to drop you. This is true of organizations. It's true of countries."
And across auto manufacturing, they can smell the power of new leaders like Marchionne, who have hauled their wrecked businesses into the shop and restored some of the lost luster of American industrial power.