Speaking at the Detroit auto show on Monday, Chrysler Group’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne said that the automaker has hired more than 600 engineers to help replenish the company’s product pipeline. The company plans to recruit even more engineers in the near future as it struggles back from financial turmoil that has left it with one of the thinnest product lines in the auto industry. In the past year, Chrysler has shed a number of brands including Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn.
Marchionne told reporters, “I need bodies to make these cars.”
According to Chrysler executives, the new hires include more than 400 engineering designers and 200 quality engineers. They said the new hires include a mix of full time employees and contractors.
The primary job for the majority of the new hires will be to adapt Fiat’s platforms for use in vehicles to be sold under the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram nameplates beginning in 2012.
In the interim, Chrysler plans to refresh its existing model lineup. The company has devised a three-pronged strategy for quickly replenishing its depleted product pipeline.
The company plans to launch new versions of existing models in the coming months, and some of these were on display when the curtain rose on the Detroit auto show on Monday.
One new version, a beach themed $1,200 version of the Jeep Wrangler the company calls the Islander Special Edition, has already sold out since going on display on Monday. Jeep will only produce 5,000 units according to the company’s CEO, Michael Manley.
Chrysler also unveiled new editions of the Dodge Journey and Nitro, Jeep Liberty and Chrysler at the show. The company says the new designs will be in dealer showrooms within the next few months.
Another, longer-term component of Chrysler’s strategy to beef up its model line calls for the redesign of the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring sedans. Sales of both models have been disappointing and Dodge’s CEO Ralph Gilles said both are “on the operating table.”
Marchionne indicated that the company will abandon the Sebring moniker altogether. He said, “Whatever the new Sebring will be called, it will not be called the Sebring.”
The company’s senior vice president of engineering Scott Kunselman said the Sebring and Avenger redesigns aim to “resolve the flaws perceived by the public today.” Among those perceived flaws are a lack of style, shoddy interiors, unresponsive handling and inefficient powertrains.
As for the long-term strategy, Chrysler plans to begin offering an assortment of Fiat-based vehicles beginning in the first quarter of 2012. These vehicles will target the compact and mid-sized segments – areas where Chrysler has struggled to establish a competitive foothold.
Marchionne said, “I need a viable product to play” in the compact and mid-sized segments, which currently account for approximately half of the U.S. market.