NEW YORK — Chrysler President and Vice Chairman Jim Press said Wednesday the government's May 1 deadline for the automaker to complete a deal with Fiat allows "ample time" to reach a definitive agreement that is key to saving Chrysler from bankruptcy.
"We prefer having a shorter timeframe to get through this period, get all the questions out of our minds, and get back to business as usual," Press said during the first day of media previews at the New York International Auto Show.
He surprised reporters at Chrysler's news conference to unveil a new Jeep Grand Cherokee by arriving on the stage in an iconic Fiat 500 subcompact. The 500, one of the Italian automaker's most successful models, would help fill the void of small vehicles in Chrysler's lineup if Chrysler survives and brings Fiat cars to U.S. showrooms by 2011, as planned.
"Don't you think that this would be a perfect car to get around New York City?" he told reporters. Shortly after, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee rounded the stage's corner and ascended a series of steps onto the stage.
The vehicle, which will be 11 percent more fuel efficient than its predecessor, will go on sale early next year.
Press said Chrysler has been aggressively moving to reduce costs while still unveiling new vehicles. The company has plans to introduce eight new vehicles in the next 18 months.
"We realize we have a responsibility to the American public," he said.
Press said Chrysler has been having a "constructive dialogue" with Fiat. The Italian automaker's chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, flew to Detroit on March 30, the day the Obama administration announced Chrysler and General Motors Corp.'s restructuring plans were insufficient and set strict deadlines for the companies to reach new goals or face bankruptcy.
"At this point in time with Fiat, we don't see anything that would be an impasse or a deal breaker," Press said. "We've had a constructive dialogue going, a cooperative dialogue with all the stakeholders, and we're hopeful that we'll be able to achieve the goals."
He said the company is progressing under the assumption that bankruptcy will not be required.
"We're pursuing the deal with Fiat assuming that a bankruptcy would not be the favored option. It wouldn't be in the best interest," he said. "Obviously you can't rule anything out, but we're working full speed, 24 hours a day to achieve the alliance and get our viability plan approved."
The government has said it will continue providing short-term aid for Chrysler while the Auburn Hills, Mich., company works out a deal, but Press said Chrysler hasn't needed more than the $4 billion the government provided earlier this year.
"We've been assured that if we need additional short-term aid, it's available from the government," he said. "Right now we're OK at this point in time."
Press declined to comment on reports that banks that lent Chrysler $6.8 billion in 2007 are resisting efforts to convert most of the automaker's debt to equity.
"We've got a lot of discussions going on with a lot of stakeholders, a lot of balls in the air," he said. "Those discussions are going on right now."