By Jennifer Clark and Norihiko Shirouzu
MILAN/BEIJING (Reuters) - Fiat-Chrysler's
Chrysler and Chinese automaker Guangzhou Automobile Group <601238.SS> joint venture GAC-Fiat aims to produce over 100,000 new Jeep models in China by as early as 2014, in a move that is key to Fiat's goal of selling 300,000 vehicles annually in China by next year.
Fiat-Chrysler is hoping that Jeep's wide brand recognition in China will help it catch up to competitors in China, as well as build Jeep's sales to a new record high.
GAC-Fiat has appointed a new general manager, John Burton, as of March 1 replacing Jack Cheng. Burton has nearly 20 years of experience under his belt running plants for General Motors
"He has an immense task since Fiat is obviously one of the last automakers into China," said Bernstein analyst Max Wharburton. "They have some knowledge of China thanks to Iveco (trucks), but in passenger cars they are starting from scratch with an unknown brand, limited distribution, and a somewhat difficult local partner."
Fiat, which took management control of Chrysler after the U.S. automaker's 2009 bankruptcy, lags far behind other foreign carmakers in China, the world's biggest car market. General Motors and Volkswagen
Fiat sold 8,800 cars in January in China, according to IHS.
Fiat built its first factory in China in June 2012 in Guandong, where Burton will be based. It launched the Viaggio sedan in September, which shares a platform with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and the Dodge Dart.
Fiat-Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne is masterminding a four-year retooling of Jeep that is intended to establish it as one of the Italian automaker's core global brands.
(Reporting by Jennifer Clark; Editing by Clelia Oziel)