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Published: Tuesday, 4/6/2010

Jeep plants under one manager

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The director of a Sicilian auto plant destined to close at the end of 2011 started a new job Monday overseeing operations at Chrysler Group LLC's two vehicle assembly plants in north Toledo.

Mauro Pino, who for three years has been director of the Termini Imerese Facility of Italian automaker and Chrysler partner Fiat SpA, spent his first day on the job in Toledo Monday.

Mr. Pino's appointment is the first time Chrysler has put one person in charge of both the Toledo North Assembly Plant, which makes the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro, and the Wrangler plant. Previously, the two plants at the Toledo Assembly complex had different managers.

Mr. Pino did not return a phone call from The Blade yesterday for comment, and a spokesman for Chrysler Group LLC said the automaker could not provide details of Mr. Pino's new assignment.

Dan Henneman, Jeep Unit Chairman for United Auto Workers Local 12, which represents workers at the plant, said he met Mr. Pino briefly yesterday but, he declined to comment further.

Mr. Pino had served Fiat as director of its small assembly plant in Termini Imerese, a city on the northern coast of Sicily, east of Palermo, that is slightly larger than Monroe, Mich.

Last year, Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat and Chrysler, caused an uproar in Italy when he announced that the plant in Termini Imerese would close in 2011, eliminating 1,500 jobs.

The plant is Fiat's smallest in Italy, and Mr. Marchionne said its vehicles are more expensive to produce because of its isolated location.

The 2,250 workers at Chrysler's Toledo Assembly complex are working to implement Fiat's manufacturing system, which seeks to eliminate waste and inefficiency in the production process.

In February, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland confirmed that Chrysler is in talks with the state to expand its operations in Toledo, although no announcement has yet been made.

Last month, Fiat dismissed a report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that the automaker planned to move production of up to 350,000 vehicles a year from Europe to North America, where labor costs are lower.

Fiat plans to lay out its five-year business plan on April 21 at its headquarters in Turin, Italy, and called the newspaper report premature.

David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said it was not surprising that Chrysler and Fiat would install a Fiat manager to run its operations in Toledo.

"I think they've really been working very hard to bring the two companies together, but in order to really blend the companies, you really have to have a good cross-representation: some Fiat folks over here and some Chrysler folks over there," Mr. Cole said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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