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Fiat Chrysler strikes deal to produce Jeeps in China

MILAN (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler has reached an agreement to start producing Jeep vehicles in China with partner Guangzhou Automobile Group Co <601238.SS>, the companies said on Saturday, as Fiat tries to catch up with competitors in a fast-growing market.

The plan to produce three new Jeep vehicles in China for the domestic market, through the GAC Fiat joint venture, has received the necessary government approvals, the companies said.

Production is expected to begin by late 2015.

GAC Fiat is also considering making a Jeep uniquely designed for China, where the Italian carmaker hopes the successful sport-utility brand can help it make up lost ground behind long-established rivals.

The deal is "the next chapter in the proper utilization and expansion on a global scale of the Jeep brand," Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne said in a statement.

GAC Fiat is establishing a production site in Guangzhou for the Jeep models, the statement said, without giving a cost.

According to an application to China's National Development and Reform Commission, GAC Fiat plans to invest a total 4.7 billion yuan ($755.8 million) in a project in Guangzhou. Funding will come from banks and the company's own equity capital.

The companies did not say which models would be produced there. Marchionne has said the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee would not be produced in China but "anything in between is possible". Likely models include the Cherokee or the smaller Renegade.

FCA's partnership with GAC is its third attempt to gain a foothold in China, after terminating previous partnerships with Nanjing Automobile Group and Chery Automobile Co. ($1 = 6.2190 Chinese Yuan)

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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