CHELSEA, Mich., June 26 (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will begin selling Jeep, the SUV brand central to its global expansion, in India in 2015, the brand's chief, Mike Manley, said on Thursday.
Manley said the original plan was for Jeep to enter the India market in late-2013, but that was delayed because he did not feel the brand would enter the market strongly at the time.
By 2020 India will be the world's third-largest auto market, behind China and the United States, with sales nearly doubling to about 6 million vehicles, according to consultancy IHS Automotive.
Manley, speaking at a Fiat Chrysler test track event in southeast Michigan, said the mid-sized Cherokee and the rugged Wrangler SUV will be the first models sold in India. But those models, which are two core vehicles for the brand, are expected to corner only a small fraction of the massive Indian market because of their relatively lofty price, which will be escalated by the import duty.
"If we're going to be successful with Jeep, you'll have to localize a vehicle in India," he said.
Jeep could start local production at a Fiat-Tata Motors Ltd joint-venture plant, but there is little spare capacity as Fiat just refreshed its lineup in India, Manley said. He would not discuss future production plans.
Fiat has about 115 dealers in India, but no Jeep dealers. At the launch of Jeep sales, Manley said he wants 15 to 20 dealers there.
Manley also told reporters that Jeep is on track to meet Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne's ambitious goal of selling 1 million vehicles globally this year, up 37 percent.
"Last month helped us a lot, hitting 100,000 vehicles around the world. It was a really big milestone," Manley said.
Whether Jeep hits the 1 million target will largely depend on continued strong Cherokee sales in North America, the success of the ongoing launch of Cherokee in Australia as well as the ramp-up of sales of the Renegade in Europe before the end of the year, Manley said.
Renegade, the subcompact SUV to be produced in Italy, will be launched in Europe in the fourth quarter and in the United States in early 2015, Manley said.
While the Wrangler and larger Grand Cherokee SUV are the best-selling Jeeps, it was through models like the smaller Renegade that Fiat Chrysler hopes to expand the brand outside North America.
Manley has said the small-size SUV market will grow to 2 million vehicles worldwide by the end of 2015.
In China, Manley said, the first Jeep Cherokee models are on track to be produced there by the end of 2015.
Jeep has about 240 dealers in China, and 360 Fiat dealers. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)