New Models Drive Chrysler Net

Increased sales of profitable new models helped Chrysler Corp. generate a 55 percent increase in third-quarter earnings, a company record for the period.

Chrysler announced Monday its profit totaled $682 million, or $1.02 a share, for the three months ended Sept. 30. That compared with $441 million, or 65 cents a share, during the third quarter of 1997.

The earnings report was expected to be the last from the No. 3 domestic automaker as an independent company. Chrysler plans to complete its merger with Daimler-Benz AG of Germany by mid-November.

Revenues totaled $15 billion, compared with $13.2 billion during the year-ago period, when two of Chrysler's assembly plants were shut down for changeover to new models.

Strong sales of those models - the Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle and the LH series of intermediate sedans - helped boost this year's third-quarter earnings.

The No. 3 domestic automaker's performance far exceeded expectations of Wall Street analysts. The average estimate of 15 analysts surveyed by First Call Corp. last week was 87 cents a share.

Chrysler's $2 billion stock-repurchase program reduced outstanding shares by 7 percent in the past year, which contributed to the per-share gain. The program was suspended last spring because of the pending merger.