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Published: Tuesday, 9/25/2007

Stretch Wrangler in hot demand

BY MARK REITER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Despite running two nine-hour shifts a day, Toledo Jeep Assembly can't meet demand for Wrangler Unlimited. Despite running two nine-hour shifts a day, Toledo Jeep Assembly can't meet demand for Wrangler Unlimited.
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Demand for the popular Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has put Chrysler LLC in a position that all automakers would like to be in.

Orders for the stretched, four-door version of the sport-utility vehicle have soared past expectations and are nearly double the current production of the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex.

Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, which represents union workers at the plant, said, "We got a major problem that [Chrysler] doesn't want to talk about, but I'll talk about it.

"We are building 583 Wranglers a day, which is what we projected the market would hold. However, we are getting orders for over 1,000 vehicles a day."

His comments were made yesterday at the plant during the official launch of the redesigned Jeep Liberty, which began rolling off the Toledo Jeep line in July.

Unit Vice Chairman Daryl Peterson exits a Liberty he drove to the launch. Unit Vice Chairman Daryl Peterson exits a Liberty he drove to the launch.
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Byron Green, vice president of truck and activity vehicle assembly operations for Chrysler, said Wrangler sales have exceeded expectations.

"It is a good situation to be in," he said. "The bulk of our volume is the four-door Wrangler. The public can't get enough of them."

The four-door version of the Wrangler was introduced a year ago, and dealers have been running out of them. Chrysler is running two nine-hour shifts six days a week to make the vehicle.

Sales of Wranglers this year are at 83,944 through August, up 71 percent from a year ago. By contrast, sales of the Liberty are down 51 percent for the first eight months this year from the same period a year ago.

Robert Graham, a salesman at Rouen Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep of Woodville, said

customers are waiting about three months to get Wranglers.

"We can't sell a whole lot of them because we can't get them," he said. "I wish we could get more four-door Wranglers."

Buyer interest in the four-door Wrangler has remained constant during the last year, said Dave Doster, Jeep sales manager at Yark Automotive Group in Sylvania Township.

"Sometimes you get a new vehicle and it will be hot-selling for awhile and then let up," he said. "But that hasn't been the case with the four-door Wrangler. Consumer demand has remained constant, if not building."

Despite strong interest in the model, Chrysler's Mr. Green said the automaker doesn't have plans to add a third shift to increase the plant's Wrangler output.

Chrysler executives hope that history will repeat itself and sales of the redesigned Liberty will take a similar path in sales. The new Liberty is hitting dealership lots nationwide.

An option available on the Liberty is a full canvas roof, called a Sky Slider, that can be opened to the elements from the front or the back.

At the July start of production of the new vehicle, which is boxier and brawnier than the model it replaced, Chrysler had no ceremony.

The new vehicle's wheelbase is nearly two inches longer that its predecessor's, and head and leg room were increased. It also has more cargo space. Prices start at $20,990 for the base two-wheel-drive Sport model and at $25,175 for the two-wheel-drive Limited version. Four-wheel-drive versions begin at $22,600 for the Sport and at $26,785 for the Limited.

Mr. Baumhower said that experts in the industry have told him that the Liberty has the potential to be named car of the year and to dominate the small sport utility vehicle market.

"I think Chrysler has hit back-to-back home runs, and the hits are going to keep coming," he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-724-6096.



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