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Jeep Success at Jefferson North Tells a Bigger Story

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There is hardly a better story I can imagine than a press release about more than 1,000 new jobs in downtown Detroit. That's what we got from Chrysler Thursday -- 1,100 hundred new jobs at Jefferson North to handle increasing demand for the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The announcement is emblematic in many ways of the way the Chrysler-Fiat alliance has progressed to the benefit of Detroit.

The Grand Cherokee is not really a product of the Fiat alliance. It is, instead, the last and best product of the DaimlerChrysler alliance. The Grand Cherokee and Mercedes-Benz M Class were developed together by the two companies, sharing architectures and components. But Fiat has made some valuable contributions in the way of nice trim packages, interior improvements and pretty terrific advertising for the most part for Jeep.

What's truly emblematic of the present-day alliance is the way Jeep -- and Chrysler overall -- is now buttressing Fiat, just two years after Fiat was the only thing standing between Chrysler and liquidation. Chrysler, in fact, is keeping Fiat from posting deep losses as the Italian automaker's European business suffers. And while the UAW was none too happy about Fiat sourcing production of the Fiat 500 in Mexico, that vehicle is struggling to catch on in the U.S. market, while good ol' Jeep made in downtown Detroit is humming along to brisk and profitable sales.

"Imported From Detroit" is the Chrysler brand ad theme, and the brand that most exemplifies the spirit of the ad campaign is Jeep Grand Cherokee.

[Read: The Inside Story of Chrysler's Risky Super Bowl Ad]

In announcing the job increase, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne gave his own commercial for Detroit: "Our future, like the history of our brands, is interwoven with the City of Detroit ... We believe that investing in Detroit is not only the right thing to do, but it is a smart thing to do as we work to write the next chapter in our shared history."

In addition to adding a shift at Jefferson North, Marchionne announced a clean diesel version of the SUV. That could add 5,000-10,000 purely incremental sales of the Grand Cherokee. There are a lot of Jeep fans that would love a chance to buy a diesel version.

Jefferson North also builds the underrated Dodge Durango, and will build portions of the Maserati Kubang SUV, based on the Grand Cherokee platform, which will debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week.

Grand Cherokee sales climbed 51 percent in the United States during 2011, to 127,744 units, while Durango sales hit 51,697 units in its first full year back on the market.

Part of what's helping Grand Cherokee sales is relatively low gas prices -- and a steadier economy for the 'haves' with enough money to plunk down in excess of $40,000 for a properly outfitted SUV. (The starting price of the Grand Cherokee Laredo is $26,995. And I'm sure there are those who buy that version. But by the time I check all the boxes I want, I'm at $40,000 out the door.)

But most of all, a superlative redesign and execution of the vehicle is luring back Jeep fans who were rightly unimpressed by the last design.

Here is what our Autoblog friends write about the redesign: "No matter your destination or proclivities, there's a Grand Cherokee to suit your needs on road, and the competition doesn't even come close to matching its abilities off road."

Jeep's improved and improving fortunes are proving invaluable to Fiat. In the third quarter of last year, Fiat reported a net profit of €112 million ($157 million), up from €73 million a year earlier. Without Chrysler, Fiat said it would have merely broken even. Forecasts for the fourth quarter indicate Chrysler's contributions will be even greater when the numbers are in.

When Fiat took over Chrysler in 2009 without putting any cash down, some said Marchionne was not invested -- if he couldn't fix Chrysler, he could just walk away with no repercussions. It feels as if those days and conversations are long over.

READ MORE: "On Jeep's 70th Anniversary: In Search of The Greatest Generation," an article and video featuring David Kiley tracing his uncle's footsteps on the battlefields of Germany and a cemetery in Belgium in a Jeep. It was one of AOL's Top 25 Stories of 2011.

Grand Blvd. is a weekly column about cars from David Kiley. For more of his writing, and everything about cars, head over to AOL Autos.