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Nardelli says he will keep Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands but may cut some models

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DETROIT (AP) _ Chrysler's new chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli said Friday he plans to keep the automaker's three brands but could cut some products as he leads the company through a restructuring.

``Clearly Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep are all very, very valuable brands,'' Nardelli said after a speech to the Automotive Press Association. ``I think we have to look very hard at some of the product within those brands.''

In one of his first public appearances since becoming chairman last month, Nardelli wouldn't say which vehicles might go. Among those struggling are the Dodge Magnum wagon, which saw sales drop 35 per cent in the first eight months of this year, and the aging PT Cruiser, which saw a 25 per cent decline.

``We have to make intelligent decisions about the products and the brands,'' said Nardelli, former CEO of Home Depot Inc. ``We can't just have emotional attachments about some of the products and brands that are out there.''

Chrysler's new owner, private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP, has hired Nardelli and a handful of other new executives to turn around the automaker.

Nardelli said he's pleased with the vehicles in Chrysler's pipeline and will make investments to improve quality, a problem that has bedeviled the company. The Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands all scored below average in this year's J.D. Power and Associates initial quality study.

``Those are the metrics by which consumers make their decisions,'' he said. ``We're not going to fight those. We're going to embrace them.''

Nardelli wouldn't say what he hopes the company will look like in five years or put a number on the market share Chrysler is striving for. Chrysler currently controls about 13 per cent of the U.S. market and has little presence overseas. LaSorda has said the company wants to double its sales outside North America by 400,000 by 2012, and Nardelli said LaSorda is leading efforts to make alliances with foreign automakers.

Nardelli also said Chrysler will ``come to a viable solution'' with the United Auto Workers in the current contract negotiations, but wouldn't discuss details. Nardelli said Cerberus isn't playing any role in the talks. The current UAW contract expires Sept. 14.

``I'm confident there'll be a good outcome,'' Nardelli said.

Chrysler vice-chairman and president Tom LaSorda, who led Chrysler before Nardelli was hired, is representing the company in the talks. Nardelli voiced support for LaSorda and said he wants to dispel rumors that LaSorda will leave once the contract talks end.

``He couldn't be more committed and resolved to be part of the team,'' Nardelli said.

Nardelli said Cerberus has demonstrated its commitment to turning Chrysler around by hiring some of the industry's brightest stars. In the last two days, Chrysler has announced that Toyota North America president Jim Press and former General Motors Corp. China chief Phil Murtaugh will join the company. Nardelli said those executives are drawn by more than a paycheque.

``This is more than financial. This is about trying to bring Chrysler, this unbelievably iconic brand, to its proper place,'' Nardelli said.

Nardelli, a newcomer to the auto industry, said he has met with dealers, suppliers, union leaders, designers and engineering teams in his first month on the job. He also has talked to former Chrysler chairmen Lee Iacocca and Dieter Zetsche.

``It's my responsibility to absorb everything I can as fast as I can,'' he said.

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Nardelli says he will keep Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands but may cut some models
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