Increased sales in markets outside North America will be crucial to Chrysler Group’s goal to increase annual volume to one million by the end of the decade, president and CEO Dieter Zetsche said yesterday.

Speaking at a press briefing at the Mondial de l'Automobile 2002 in Paris, Zetsche said Chrysler’s goal of product leadership globally "will be reflected in a focus on strong American brands that offer products and features well suited for international markets."

He added, "Chrysler Group brands will not try to be more European than the Europeans. We'll stick to what we do well, like styling and segment innovation."

In the short term, "Chrysler will look for slow, consistent growth," Zetsche said. "In the mid-term, we expect our new product offensive to lead to a considerable increase in volume."

Zetsche emphasised that international growth opportunities will play a significant role in the company's overall strategy for the future, which is built around a vision to differentiate itself from the competition.

"Turnaround is no longer an accurate description for the Chrysler Group," Zetsche said. "We don't intend to turn the clock back to where we were before. Instead, we are transforming the group into something new, keeping the creativity we have always had while adding the processes and exactness that will ensure our long-term sustainability."

Zetsche said that Chrysler will also seek to take advantage of the newly gained heritage that the merged DaimlerChrysler family now provides. Parts of the company - notably Mercedes-Benz - have a leading reputation for product innovation.

"We have powerful new tools that enable us to share innovation across three continents and adapt them to the requirements of the particular markets we serve," Zetsche said.

In particular, he noted that Mercedes-Benz diesel technology had been adapted for Chrysler and Jeep in Europe with immediately positive results. "Diesel sales in Western Europe for the first half of the year were 56% of our total sales, and were a 60% increase over our sales of diesels last year. During the second half of the year we expect this percentage to be even slightly higher."

Within the next five years, Zetsche said, "we plan to double the number of models available with diesels and right hand drive."

International markets will also play an important role in Chrysler’s re-focused attention on passenger cars. Of the 21 new and refreshed vehicles to be introduced over the next three years, two-thirds will be car-based.

The company's "Jeep-First" strategy is to invest and grow the brand around the world.

Zetsche noted that smaller 4 x 4 vehicles are becoming attractive to Europeans, and that the Jeep brand was already moving in the right direction. Jeep sales in western Europe from January to August 2002 increased by 44% compared with the first eight months of 2001.

In addition, Chrysler last week signed a contract extension with Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria, to continue producing the Grand Cherokee for five more years, including the successor version.

The Chrysler Voyager minivan remains the company's strongest seller in Europe with a total of 25,000 units sold during the first eight months of the year.

Zetsche said that Chrysler would "bring a 2.4 Turbo to the PT Cruiser in Europe next year."

The Cruiser has also been available with a Mercedes-Benz 2.2 litre common rail diesel engine in Europe since earlier this year.

"We will bring our penchant for producing segment-defining products squarely into the passenger car arena, not forgetting our inherent strength in light trucks," Zetsche concluded.

"Global partnership is our unique advantage."