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New Liberty rollout speeded

SUVs made in Toledo are to debut in '12, not '13


Assembly workers at the Liberty-Nitro plant have began a four-day, 10-hour schedule this week that officials estimate will save several hundred thousand dollars in overtime each year.

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Chrysler Group LLC hasn't yet revealed its plans for its Toledo Assembly complex, but it has given its first suggestion that change at the plant may be coming sooner rather than later.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Chrysler disclosed that the next-generation Jeep Liberty, initially planned to debut in 2013, will be rolled out a year earlier instead.

"In 2012, we anticipate several more vehicle launches, including new versions of the Jeep Liberty and the Dodge Viper, and an all-new Dodge C-class sedan. By the end of 2014, we expect that our entire lineup will consist of vehicles based on new platform architectures since 2009, more than half of which will be platforms shared with Fiat," the filing said.

Todd Goyer, a spokesman for Chrysler's Jeep brand, said he could not comment on the revelation, which was included as part of a broader outline of the automaker's current and future operations as a way to provide information to current and future stakeholders of the company. The company expects to issue public stock by next year.

Chrysler senior executives had said the next-generation Liberty would be based on the same Fiat-derived architecture that will underpin nearly all of its next-generation mid-sized cars, crossovers, and sport utility vehicles.

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in mid-January, Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne said the next-generation Liberty was "80 percent complete at this point" but engineers were still working to make it more competitive in its segment.

Chrysler has been expected to make an announcement on the future of its 2.1 million-square-foot Toledo plant, where 1,710 hourly and salaried workers assemble the Liberty and its line-mate, the Dodge Nitro.

Mr. Marchionne in January said he expected some type of announcement about the plant's future products would be made in the first half of this year.

Chrysler has so far made no announcement about the the Nitro.

In the five-year plan laid out to journalists and analysts in November, 2009, Chrysler indicated that the Nitro's existence was only "under consideration" for beyond 2011. U.S. sales of the Nitro had fallen hard in 2009 to just 17,443 units but rebounded 30 percent in 2010 to 22,618 units.

In both years, Nitro sales were less than half of those for Liberty.

In an unrelated move, assembly workers at the Liberty-Nitro plant began a four-day, 10-hour schedule this week that officials estimate will save the company several hundred thousands of dollars in overtime each year.

The Monday-through-Thursday production schedule began yesterday in the plant and allows skilled-trade maintenance crews to perform their work on Fridays instead of on the weekends.

Chrysler spokesman Jodi Tinson said the factory is the only North American Chrysler assembly plant to adopt the four-day, 10-hour schedule "because it is one of the few still on one shift."

Workers at its neighboring Wrangler plant remain on two shifts five days a week, she said.

A spokesman for United Auto Workers Local 12, which represents workers at the Toledo Assembly complex, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.

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