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CEO: Chrysler on a roll, can't stop now

CEO: Chrysler on a roll, can't stop now
Reid Bigland, President and CEO of Dodge, left, talks with Sergio Marchionne, CEO of the Fiat Group and Chrysler before the Jeep presentation during the 2013 North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Center in Detroit, January 14, 2013. UPI/Mark Cowan | License Photo

DETROIT, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Chrysler's Truck of the Year win at the 2013 auto show in Detroit does not signify it was time to rest, the company's top executive said Monday.

Chrysler has had an unlikely comeback from 2009, when the company declared bankruptcy and required a federal bailout and a rescue from Italian automaker Fiat to get back on its feet, The New York Times reported.

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Not only did its Ram truck win its third Truck of the Year award Monday at the North American International Auto Show, but Chrysler, the smallest of the U.S. auto giants, saw sales improve 20.6 percent in 2012 against an industry average of 13.4 percent.

By contrast, Ford Motor Co. Posted a sales gain of 4.7 percent for the year while General Motors saw its sales rise 3.7 percent.

RELATED Ram 1500, Cadillac ATS win at Detroit show

At the auto show Monday, Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Chrysler and Fiat, said, "Celebration is fine. I'm delighted. But it's over."

His message had to do with the "threat of complacency," he said.

Putting that into context, automakers lost a combined $6.5 billion in Europe in 2012 and the economic forecasts call for a slow turnaround.

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As such, Marchionne is developing plans to diversify what his companies can offer in Europe by switching a Fiat plant to one that makes the compact Jeep Liberty.

"The brand needs an entry-level Jeep" that is affordable, Marchionne said.

This creates a situation few envisioned when Fiat took the risk on the struggling American automaker that had already failed to make headway when owned by Daimler and by Cerberus Capital Management.

Who saw this coming?

"It's not Fiat saving Chrysler; it's Chrysler saving Fiat," said industry analyst David Cole, founder of the Center for Automotive Research.

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