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Published: Tuesday, 5/13/2008

Chrysler alters plan to outsource Jeep seats

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Workers at Johnson Controls Inc.'s factory in Northwood learned in February that their jobs building seats for the Jeep Wrangler were being outsourced to India by 2010.

But that plan may have proven a bit ambitious. Yesterday, the manufacturing chief for Chrysler LLC told an automotive trade publication that at least part of the work - the more complex front seats - will stay local.

Meanwhile, the Indian company that won the work, Krishna Maruti Ltd., is looking for space in the Toledo area and plans to hire as many as 70 people to produce the rear seats, according to local economic development sources.

The Wrangler and the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro are made at the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex.

Chrysler Co-President Tom LaSorda told Automotive News in a story published yesterday that Johnson Controls would continue to build the Wrangler's front seats, which feature embedded electronic controls and sensors and are produced in numerous variations.

The rear seat would be made by Krishna Maruti in India and shipped to Toledo, he said.

United Auto Workers officials estimated in February that the outsourcing of the entire seat contract would mean the loss of about 75 jobs at Johnson Controls' facility in Northwood.

Wayne Truitt, Johnson Controls unit chairman at UAW Local 12, said yesterday that he and other UAW officials have been watching Chrysler's outsourcing effort and wondered whether it was going to work as cheaply as advertised.

"I had heard that they're talking to [automotive suppliers], and I told my management that I don't care if India pays me or Chrysler pays me, as long as we get paid," Mr. Truitt said. In addition to seats for the Wrangler, the Northwood factory makes dashboard assemblies for the Liberty and Dodge Nitro.

A spokesman for Johnson Controls declined to comment on the report.

Toledo-area economic development officials have reported contacts with an Indian firm that is suspected to be Krishna Maruti, which they said has been looking for two weeks at buildings in the Toledo metropolitan area.

The company reportedly is looking at several former or threatened auto-parts-supplier facilities in the area and wants at least 50,000 square feet for a factory that ultimately would employ as many as six dozen.

A spokesman for the Regional Growth Partnership could not be reached for comment.

Krishna Maruti is a joint venture of Suzuki Motor Corp. in Japan and Indian companies Maruti Udyog Ltd. and Ashok Kapur & Associates, according to Automotive News. Krishna Maruti claims to be South Asia's largest seating systems maker.

Mr. Truitt warned, however, that the potential jobs being imported might pay only a fraction of the $13 to $19.50 an hour his members are paid now. "I'm hearing they want to bring these jobs in at $8.50 an hour."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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