MILAN (Bloomberg) -- U.S. car buyers’ thirst for Ram trucks and Jeep SUVs sent Fiat Chrysler’s sales up faster than those of the biggest three carmakers last year, an early positive sign for CEO Sergio Marchionne’s ambitious five-year growth plan.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said 2014 deliveries rose 7 percent to 4.75 million vehicles. The gain beats No. 1 Toyota’s 3 percent increase to 10.23 million cars, the 4 percent jump at second-place Volkswagen and the 2 percent increase at General Motors Co., the third-biggest carmaker.
Though still half the size of the big three, last year’s deliveries showed Marchionne’s aim to sell 7 million cars in 2018 is more than just a line on a presentation chart.
The U.S. market, which accounts for more than half of Fiat Chrysler’s sales, and the new Jeep Renegade’s performance in China and South America will help determine whether the company posts another increase this year, said Richard Hilgert, an analyst in Chicago at Morningstar.
“It becomes more difficult” to sustain growth after the 2014 gain, Hilgert said, though an increase in sales volume is still possible. “The company’s year-over-year comparisons will be a high hurdle to clear.”
The carmaker is aiming to sell more than 5 million cars this year, Marchionne said on Jan. 12 in Detroit. It’s also investing 48 billion euros ($55 billion) in new cars to drive deliveries, and plans to put 20 new vehicles on the market by next year. They include the Jeep Renegade and the Fiat 500X, two small SUVs that will be built in Italy.
The first Renegades destined for North America will be shipped this month.
“We want to send the U.S. as many as we can,” Marchionne said in Detroit. “We have demand.”
Jeep deliveries rose 41 percent in the U.S. last year, to 692,300 units, while Ram sales rose 28 percent to 469,100 units. Global sales at the Ferrari and Maserati luxury division more than doubled to 40,100 vehicles.
Fiat Chrysler may return to profit in Europe by 2016 as it cut costs and sells new models, Marchionne said. Now based in London, the automaker moved its listing to the New York Stock Exchange from Milan in October.