Explaining Southern California's economy

With Jeep and Fiat, Chrysler has a very good September

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Chrysler was almost dead in the water in 2008. Now it's posting some of its best sales since 2007.

The automakers are reporting September sales today, and the stage is set for a pretty solid month, keeping the U.S. on pace to see 14.5 million in new car sales for the year, and improvement of 1.5 million over last year. 

Remember Chrysler? The company was widely regarding as a basket case in the industry in 2007-08, when it lurched into a government bailout, and bankruptcy, and subsequent takeover by Italy's Fiat. Flash-forward four years and Chrysler/Fiat is a lean, mean automobile-selling machine. 

Its September results are interesting for two reasons. First, the company posted a 12-percent gain over last September and its best month for sales since 2007 when it was, you know, not yet bailed out, bankrupt, or taken over by Fiat. Second, it posted good numbers for one of Chrysler's most iconic marques, Jeep, and specifically the rough-and-tumble Jeep Wrangler, the spiritual core of the brand. But on the Fiat side, the revamped 500 model is also gaining some traction, after an iffy introduction to the the U.S.A. 

The 500 is a peppy little 2-door that's meant to go head-to-head with BMW's MINI brand, winning on price. 

The Wrangler set a September sales record, according to Chrysler, while the 500 had its best September since its arrival in America in 2011, with a 51-percent year-over-year jump. With that result, Fiat led the entire Chrysler pack.

The 500 has done well for Chrysler in California, probably the most important auto market in North America. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere — or not entirely need to, because you can sell so many cars in the Golden State. The 500 also shows that a revived Italian icon — the original 500 hit the road in Italy in 1957 — can fit nicely in the North American Free Trade Agreement. It's built in Mexico, in a plant that once constructed another iconic (for all the wrong reasons) Chrysler set of wheels: the PT Cruiser.

That was one of the worst cars ever built. The 500, by contrast, could be one of the best.

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