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Published: Tuesday, 6/6/2006

Third shift to be added to assemble Nitro SUVs

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

It's been talked about for years, but now it's about to happen: The Toledo Jeep Assembly complex will create a third shift in August, adding about 750 jobs, a union official said yesterday.

The extra jobs, however, will be filled by current or laid-off Jeep workers, not by new hires. The shift will build the new Dodge Nitro sport-utility vehicle.

The 750 jobs mean all permanent Jeep workers will have work, said Dan Henneman, chairman for United Auto Workers Local 12's Jeep unit. Left to find work will be about 270 temporary part-timers, he said.

DaimlerChrysler AG, which owns the multi-factory Toledo Jeep, declined to confirm the extra shift. Chrysler Chief Executive Tom LaSorda told The Blade in January the firm would decide on a third shift in midyear.

The Toledo Jeep complex between Chrysler Drive and Stickney Avenue, north of I-75, now makes the Jeep Liberty and parts of the Jeep Wrangler.

Once a set of new $900 million factories is completed this month, Wrangler operations in the old Jeep Parkway factory and a Stickney factory will cease, and production will move to the new plants.

The Parkway plant, dating to about 1910, is the nation's longest-running assembly plant.

Mr. Henneman said the company has told him the new complex will start making a redesigned Wrangler on July 17, beginning with four-door Unlimited versions, and the Nitro on Aug. 7 next door, along with continued Liberty production.

Toledo Jeep includes factories to be run by suppliers, a new concept among Big Three automakers in North America.

The $2.1 billion invested in the complex was not expected to bring more jobs than the older Jeep factories, although some Jeep workers will be employed by the onsite suppliers, likely for lower wages than Chrysler paid.

The company, meanwhile, named a supplier yesterday to operate a new paint shop for the Wrangler factories.

It will be Canada's Magna International Inc., which will not own the factory.

Magna's appointment brings some relief, Mr. Henneman said.

"I'm just glad they got somebody over here that will oversee the facility and will stay and will give some stability to the operation," he said.

Magna, through its Magna Steyr operations in Graz, Austria, builds and paints the Chrysler 300C, Chrysler Town & Country, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Jeep Commander for international markets.

That relationship was key, a Chrysler spokesman said.

The supplier joins South Korea's Hyundai Mobis, which will supply chassis for Wrangler, and Germany's Kuka Group, which will build their bodies. Those two companies own their plants.

Chrysler, in its adjacent factory, will perform final assembly on the Wranglers.

Magna is the third company selected for the paint shop. Chrysler picked Germany's Drr Group in 2004, but it was replaced by Haden International Group Inc. until that firm left the project amid financial troubles early this year.

Chrysler had assumed responsibility for the paint shop.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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