CHICAGO (AP) _ Chrysler Corp. said today it plans a $90 million modernization of its subcompact Neon assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill.

Spokeswoman Carrie McElwee declined, however, to provide details on how the modernization money would be spent in advance of a formal announcement later in the day.

The new equipment is designed to raise productivity without affecting employment, the Chicago Tribune reported in today's editions.

The Tribune reported that Chrysler's plans signal that the automaker is committed to continuing to build small cars in this country even though the market has been soft due to low gas prices and demand for sports utility vehicles.

The investment is expected to include $45 million for a stamping press to build higher-quality body panels more quickly. Another $45 million is planned for a new anti-chip paint system designed to provide an exterior more resistant to road debris, the Tribune reported.

The investment will prepare Chrysler to begin production of the next generation Neon for the 2000 model year, set to begin in about a year, the newspaper said.