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The first Jeep Cherokee produced in China rolled off the assembly line on Monday, marking a significant milestone for the sport utility vehicle brand.

Executives with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Guangzhou Automobile Group, its Chinese joint-venture partner, were joined by senior government officials for a special event at the company’s Changsha plant, where the vehicle will be produced for that market.

“Today marks a milestone in the history of our brand,” said Mike Manley, head of Jeep and chief operating officer of the Asia-Pacific region.

The GAC Fiat Chrysler Automobiles joint venture expects full Cherokee production in November, with deliveries to begin before the end of the year. By 2016, the Jeep brand’s portfolio in China is expected to consist of three new models, including the locally-produced Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Renegade.

China is an important part of Jeep’s global expansion through 2018. Fiat Chrysler plans to produce 1.9 million Jeeps by 2018 at 10 plants in six countries: the U.S., Italy, China, Brazil, India and one other yet-to-be-announced country. Two years ago, only 798,000 rolled out of four plants in the United States.

Global growth of the brand is a centerpiece of an ambitious five-year plan of Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne to grow Fiat Chrysler's global sales to 7 million by 2018, a 60 percent increase from 2013. During the 2015 Detroit auto show in January, Marchionne said globalization of the brand is the key mission for the year.

China represents the largest Jeep market outside the U.S.

The GAC FCA Changsha plant, the birthplace of the locally produced Jeep Cherokee, is the first in China to adopt the exacting World Class Manufacturing (WCM) standards. WCM is a methodology that focuses on reducing waste, increasing productivity and improving quality and safety in a systematic and organized way.

Jeep production in China originally begin in 1983 but ceased in the mid-2000s.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2504

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