TURIN, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Italian carmaker Fiat will build Maserati and Alfa Romeo models at its flagship Mirafiori plant in Turin, Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said, safeguarding the under-utilised factory's future for now.
Fiat, which controls U.S. carmaker Chrysler, plans to use its idled Italian factories to produce Jeeps, Maseratis and Alfa Romeos for export, as it relies increasingly on overseas sales to offset flagging demand in recession-hit Italy.
"I've made a commitment. We are not closing Mirafiori," Marchionne said in a public interview. "We will make luxury cars for both Maserati and for Alfa Romeo."
Marchionne said on Sunday Fiat's two factories in Turin will make cars for export to compete for market share with premium German brands like Volkswagen's Audi and BMW .
Mirafiori, which recently has only been running for a few days per month, is next in line for new investments. Fiat in December said it is investing about 1.2 billion euros to relaunch Maserati, and about another billion to build Jeeps at its Melfi factory.
Fiat has not officially said which models it will build at Mirafiori. Union sources say they expect it to build the Maserati sports utility vehicle, the Levante, and an Alfa Romeo SUV at Mirafiori.
While previous attempts to expand its Maserati and Alfa Romeo brands have fallen flat, Marchionne said on Sunday that Chrysler's 2,300-strong U.S. dealer network will make the difference. Marchionne brushed off the idea that Fiat was not capable of competing in the luxury segment, given its track record at Ferrari.
"The world's most expensive car is going to be unveiled at the Geneva auto show next month - it's a Ferrari," he told the audience. "The Enzo is already completely sold. It's made by Italian workers, by Italian engineers, and by Italian designers. And you ask me what I need to learn from the Germans?"
In terms of smaller cars, Fiat plans to extend its Panda range with a crossover-styled version like it did for the Fiat 500 X, said Marchionne.
"There will probably be a Panda X," he said.