Jurgen Schrempp, Chairman of DaimlerChrysler AG, says the company will offer a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a third row of seats.
His assurance comes as the company's Chrysler group in North America is reviewing product plans in an effort to cut costs and share more components with Mercedes-Benz.
Suppliers have said that the group last month scrapped plans to redesign the Grand Cherokee on a new platform, a program that would have included a stretched version with a third row of seats.
That raised questions about how Jeep will compete with other mid-sized sport-utilities that have or soon will offer third-row seating, including the new Ford Explorer, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and the current Mercedes M-class.
When asked specifically if the Grand Cherokee with a third row of seats has been canceled, Schrempp said, 'No. No.
'We have no intention, for cost reasons or any other reasons, to cut out a vehicle,' Schrempp said. 'We will definitely go ahead with the product plan [through 2005]. But there is always a way to improve it.'
Plans still do not include the Chrysler group to share platforms with Mercedes-Benz.
'That is of absolute importance to the integrity of the star [Mercedes], and obviously to some extent, to protect also the integrity of the Chrysler brands,' Schrempp said.
Several suppliers said the Chrysler group has delayed or canceled plans for a number of products in its effort to slash costs after a third-quarter loss of $512 million that it blames, in part, on expensive new product launches.
Rather than redesign the Grand Cherokee on a new platform for 2004, Chrysler will restyle the vehicle on its current platform for 2004 1/2, the suppliers said. A freshening for 2002 still is on track.
The stretched-wheelbase Grand Cherokee on the new platform has been dropped, the suppliers said. The Chrysler group instead is considering a truck-based vehicle with three-row seating. It is not clear whether it would be badged Grand Cherokee. Suppliers also said the Chrysler 300 Hemi C convertible, originally due in 2004, has been delayed.
The Grand Cherokee product plans are particularly important. Joseph Lescota, chairman of the automotive marketing department at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan, USA, said rising gasoline prices make mid-sized sport-utilities with extra seating attractive to buyers who want the fun of a sport-utility and the passenger capacity of a minivan.
Dorothee Ostle and Robert Sherefkin contributed to this report