(Adds CEO comment from conference call, details)
By Bernie Woodall and Agnieszka Flak
April 26 (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said on Tuesday that a realignment of North American plants to emphasize truck and Jeep production over car output will be completed by early 2018.
He also said the company will build, by the second half of this year, a new compact Jeep SUV model at its plant in Toluca, Mexico. The new model will also be built in Brazil and China, the company has said earlier. This model in North America will replace the current Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot SUVs.
North America accounted for nearly 90 percent of company profit in the first quarter, as low fuel prices increased consumer preference for pickup trucks and SUVs over gas-sipping cars.
The new Jeep, the name of which has not yet been announced, will go on sale in early 2017 in the U.S. market, Marchionne said.
Production of the profitable Ram 1500 pickup truck will be shifted to the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant from the Warren Truck Plant. Both plants are in suburban Detroit.
Marchionne emphasized that no truck or Jeep SUV production will be lost as the company restructures its North American footprint. He re-affirmed that truck and SUV production will be emphasized over the less profitable making of cars.
“As the relevance of passenger cars decreases in the U.S. it helps profitability,” Marchionne said on a conference call after the company issued quarterly earnings.
He also said that when the reset of North American production is completed, the number of workers represented by the United Auto Workers union will rise, although there will be temporary layoffs at plants such as one already announced at Sterling Heights.
He re-affirmed comments made earlier this month in Amsterdam, where the company is registered, that he expected to have more news by the end of this year on its search for a partner to help it build Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak in Milan and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)