REFILE-UPDATE 3-Chrysler sales slump ahead of new model launches

Mon Apr 29, 2013 12:11pm EDT
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By Bernie Woodall and Jennifer Clark

DETROIT/MILAN, April 29 (Reuters) - Carmaker Fiat's first quarter profit slumped more than expected as its U.S. unit Chrysler's sales suffered from the phase out of the Jeep Liberty pending a new model launch.

"We knew we would be limping in the quarter. I just didn't think I was going to limp that much," said Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of both Chrysler and its parent Fiat, on a conference call with analysts and reporters.

Marchionne in January warned that Chrysler's first-quarter earnings would be down from a year earlier because of the expense of product launches and the fact that the Jeep Liberty SUV was no longer being produced.

The Liberty's successor, the Jeep Cherokee, was not sold in the first quarter and will not be sold until the third quarter.

But Marchionne said that there were delays in the production launches of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and RAM heavy duty trucks, which he said are among the highest profit-makers for the automaker.

Fiat, which took control of the third-largest U.S. automaker when Chrysler emerged from a government-sponsored bankruptcy four years ago, stood by its financial forecasts for 2013 despite a worsening European car market and lower revenue in the U.S. for the first quarter.

Fiat said it sees full-year revenue in the 88 billion euro to 92 billion euro range, trading profit between 4 billion and 4.5 billion euros, and net industrial debt of about 7 billion euros.   Continued...