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Electric pickups a possibility, FCA CEO says, as it updates product plans

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV could electrify its Ram trucks if they face deteriorating market share, CEO Mike Manley said Friday, as he provided updates on product launch plans that faced delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Italian American automaker has said it will electrify its profit-heavy Jeep brand by 2022, but overall it has been slow to adopt electric vehicles and mum on the possibility for its Ram pickups. Meanwhile, competitors including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Tesla Inc. and Plymouth-based startup Rivian Automotive Inc. are rolling out electric trucks in the months and years ahead.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will not let competitors' electric pickups prevent its Ram trucks from losing market share, CEO Mike Manley said Friday.

"The reason we haven’t spoken much about electric pickup trucks is not because we view that market as nonexistent," Manley said on an earnings call in response to an analyst question. "But we’ve always had a slightly different view of timing and adoption rates, particularly in North America in terms of full electrification. We are very committed to our electrification strategy — most of which we have revealed.

"We haven’t revealed everything. But obviously pickup trucks are a key franchise for us, and we’re not going to sit on the sidelines if there is a danger that our position gets diluted going forward."

Ram is getting a power boost this year, though not from a battery. The new Ram TRX, a performance truck, will debut this quarter with production beginning in the fourth quarter in Sterling Heights.

For now, Fiat Chrysler's focus for electrification in North America is on Jeep starting with the Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid SUV. More details will become available this quarter after the vehicle made an appearance in January at the CES trade show in Las Vegas. Production will start in the fourth quarter in Toledo with vehicles in showrooms by the end of the year.

Jeep also is preparing a slew of new launches over the next year, though details on their electrification plans are not yet available.

An unnamed new three-row, full-size SUV had been set to launch by the end of 2020 at Fiat Chrysler's new assembly plant on Detroit's east side at the former site of the Mack Avenue Engine Complex. Production now is expected to begin in the first quarter of next year. The vehicle is expected to provide Jeep with access to 60% of the large SUV market of which the two-row Grand Cherokee has access to only about 40%, Manley said.

Manufacturing of the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer SUVs will begin in the second quarter of 2021 in Warren. The truck plant closed at the end of June for 14 weeks of retooling and will reopen in October. The Wagoneer previously was sold between the 1963 and 1993 model years.

"All three of these vehicles will go into high-margin segments that we do not play in today," Manley said of the new Jeeps.

In the third quarter of 2021, the fifth-generation Grand Cherokee will begin production. Workers at the new Detroit plant and the adjacent Jefferson North Assembly facility will manufacture the Jeep SUV. The Grand Cherokee was last redesigned in 2011.

Fiat Chrysler's plant in Toluca, Mexico, also this month shut down for four weeks to prepare for a mid-cycle freshening of the Jeep Compass crossover.

Luxury brand Maserati this year is refreshing the Quattroporte sedan, Levante SUV and Ghibli sportscar. The Italian brand additionally will debut the new MC20 super sportscar on Sept. 9 during the company's Maserati Day investors event.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble