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Published: Thursday, 6/18/2009

Chrysler sets plant restart for June 29; Wrangler work to resume

FROM BLADE STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES

Chrysler Group LLC plans to restart seven assembly plants and its parts plants at the end of June after silencing all of its factories during its six-week stay in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

But only part of the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex will reopen on June 29, with the rest not expected to start until at least the end of July.

Inventories of vehicles made by the plants to be restarted have begun to shrink, a spokesman said. The assembly plants restarting employ about 11,000 workers.

All the company's factories were shut down May 4, shortly after it went into Chapter 11.

Despite the restart news, all of the Chrysler plants are to be shut down again for two weeks starting July 13.

The company said yesterday that factories in Toledo; Sterling Heights and Warren, Mich.; St. Louis; Brampton and Windsor, Ont., and in Toluca, Mexico, would restart operations. Production at a Detroit factory resumed Monday.

But at Toledo Jeep, only the factories that make Jeep Wranglers are restarting before the end of the month.

Those factories have about 700 Chrysler workers and about 400 supplier workers.

The next-door factory, which makes the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro - neither of which has sold very well this year - is not scheduled to resume production until later this summer, a company spokesman said, without giving a restart date.

Dan Henneman, Jeep unit chair at United Auto Workers Local 12, said the restart likely won't be until at least July 27, after a companywide summer shutdown ends.

He attributed the situation to high inventory and sluggish sales of models built there. Liberty sales through May this year are down 45 percent from the same period a year ago, whereas Wrangler sales are up 11 percent.

The Liberty and Nitro plant employs about 1,000 Chrysler workers.

Parts plants that supply the assembly factories also will restart June 29, the company said, including the Toledo Machining Plant in Perrysburg Township. The suburban Toledo plant has about 1,300 workers.

When the factories come back online, their work will be done under a different manufacturing system, one used in Europe by Fiat Group SpA that is called World Class Manufacturing.

Union officials say training in the new manufacturing methods, including workers at Toledo Jeep, got under way early in June, with workers learning a more detail-oriented, data-driven process that is similar to but less bureaucratic than Chrysler's system.

Chrysler emerged from Chapter 11 on June 10, the same day most of its assets were transferred to a new company run by Fiat, which now controls the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker.

The day of Chrysler's bankruptcy filing, some of its factories were forced to send workers home because of a lack of parts, because parts supply companies stopped shipping for fear that they wouldn't be paid.



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