Fiat is mulling building Jeeps in China again, as part of its corporate stewardship of Chrysler and its joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile. No surprise here—it’ll be well worth its favor to re-enter the world’s largest automotive market and get a slice of that upwardly mobile pie. Whether Chinese-built Jeeps make it over here, of course, will be another point of contention.
Chrysler last produced Jeeps in China in 2009, when it ended its Beijing Jeep joint venture. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, Chrysler (and American Motors before that) built Cherokees of unusual lineage—as well as the occasional Mitsubishi product, and the aptly but unfortunately named Beijing BJ212. Jeeps would be sold in China as part of Chrysler’s plan to triple its overseas sales by next year. Witness the sneaky incursion of the Dodge Journey into Italy, rebadged as a Fiat. Likewise the 300 and the 200, both of which are getting Italian names as Lancias.
Currently, Jeeps are built in Detroit, Illinois, and Toledo, Ohio—the Wrangler’s ancestral home. Jeeps are also built in faraway places as Venezuela and Iran, two countries that our president doesn’t include on his annual Christmas card mailing list. But according to Bloomberg, production in China would be such a vast, expansive operation that Chinese-made Jeeps could even come to America—and, eventually, all Jeep production would move overseas, especially to China—Jeeps carrying the Made In China sticker along its proud, unchanged flanks.
Imagine the upheaval that would cause. Millions would riot in the streets. Cars would be set on fire—Patriots, Compasses, and the small Fiat crossover that’s all but set to wear the name. The rumor that Jeep, that most patriotic of American companies, could see its assembly lines in the ghastly spectre of China—the single unifying political topic from the last presidential debate, and rife for Red Dawn fodder—would be not only a damning reflection of America’s modern manufacturing climate, but a sublime irony on par with if Benedict Arnold would have escaped to Canada, instead of surrendering Ticonderoga, and opened up a series of Pizza Huts.
We don’t foresee this happening. Not now. Not ever. “The volume opportunity for us is very significant,” said Mike Manley, the chief operating officer of Fiat and Chrysler in Asia. “We’re reviewing the opportunities within existing capacity.” But he also meant adding new factories, or shifting production to Chrysler’s other factories, rather than moving to China. The Fiat plant in central China has the capacity to build 500,000 cars per year, but production capacity will go towards a different Chrysler joint venture as well—the Dodge Dart, aptly named the Fiat Viaggo.