Sales of new Ram pickup to begin by Jan 2018: Fiat Chrysler CEO

WINDSOR, Ont. (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles FCAU.NFCHA.MI next-generation Ram pickup truck will go on sale by January 2018, Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said on Friday.

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“We will be in market by January of ‘18,” said Marchionne of the new version of FCA’s top-selling vehicle in North America, where it made nearly 90 percent of its first-quarter profit.

Speaking to reporters at the FCA plant in Windsor, Ontario, Marchionne also said the company will cease production of the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan by the end of this year or in early 2017. Previously he had said the company would stop making the light-selling sedan, but not when.

Marchionne said FCA is still looking for a manufacturing partner to continue to build the Chrysler 200 as well as the compact Dodge Dart sedan.

Marchionne was at the Windsor plant to thank its 5,700 hourly and 300 white-collar workers for the launch of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which went into production on Feb. 29. The Pacifica takes the place of two minivans, one of which, the Dodge Grand Caravan, is still produced. Marchionne did not say how much longer the Dodge minivan would be made.

The underpinning architecture of the Pacifica could be used for the next-generation Chrysler 300 large sedan, Marchionne said, and perhaps at Windsor. The current rear-wheel drive Chrysler 300 is made at FCA’s plant in Brampton, Ontario.

“This plant and this architecture is capable of making the 300 successor, the front-wheel, all-wheel drive successor,” Marchionne said.

Marchionne was asked if that meant the Chrysler 300 would no longer be made as a rear-wheel drive sedan. He said he had not said that, but only that the Windsor plant is “capable” of making the sedan. “It’s capable. It’s not a commitment.”

He also said that FCA’s plant in Belvidere, Illinois will get production of the Jeep Cherokee SUV by the end of next year. It is now made in Toledo, Ohio. The Belvidere plant will be losing the Dodge Dart, which like the Chrysler 200 is light-selling and not highly profitable, and FCA plans to stop making it.

The Windsor plant has been making minivans since 1983.

FCA says it spent $2.6 billion to design and develop the Pacifica, including $744 million to upgrade the Windsor plant.

Of the 14.3 million minivans sold by Chrysler and its successor Fiat Chrysler, about 10 million were produced at Windsor.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, James Dalgleish and Ed Davies