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Dealer: Chrysler plans to reduce products, dealerships

SAN FRANCISCO - Chrysler LLC president Jim Press said Friday a rejuvenation plan for the automaker could include jettisoning some dealers and cutting its product lineup by as much as half.

Press, speaking to industry executives at the J.D. Power and Associates Automotive Roundtable in San Francisco, emphasized that Chrysler's management team has not yet decided the severity of the cuts. Chrysler needs to pare down its lineup so similar models don't compete against each other, a change that will save marketing expenses and help dealers become more profitable, Press said.

Trimming the number of dealers, he added, will also help Chrysler reduce cannibalization among its brands as it embarks on a plan called Project Genesis to align the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands under one roof.

The consolidation should occur within the next 4 years to 5 years, Press said, adding that Chrysler's forecasts of product cuts are based on estimates and not set in stone.

""There are no numbers. We don't know how many models we're going to have. No one knows that,' he said.

A Chrysler dealer in Texas said Friday that the automaker has told dealers it could cut its number of models by as much as half, and reduce the number of dealerships selling its cars by as much as a third in an effort to boost efficiency.

""I think they're trying to get a little leaner, a little more efficient,' said Alan Helfman, vice president of River Oaks Chrysler Jeep in Houston.

Helfman said it looks like a good step by the company, but he's concerned about how it might be carried out.

He said Chrysler could run into trouble with state franchise laws that in part protect dealers from going out of business.

""We have two of the largest dealerships in Houston,' he said. ""I'd love both of them to be ... "Genesized,' but tell me how to do it.'

Chrysler earlier this month said it was launching a new ad campaign that includes lower prices on 12 of its vehicles. The campaign aims to cast the automaker as a company that's listening to buyers and responding with new features.

Chrysler is undergoing a restructuring after private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP bought a majority stake in the automaker last summer, In November, the automaker said it planned to cut up to 11,000 jobs, including 8,000 to 10,000 hourly jobs and 1,000 salaried positions.

The cuts came in addition to 13,000 cuts Chrysler announced last February, including 11,000 hourly jobs and 2,000 salaried workers in the U.S. and Canada.

Press also called rumors that the company might sell off parts of its business ""hogwash' and said Chrysler is committed to staying viable as an independent company.