Chrysler Group LLC has taken its first public step toward expanding its Toledo Assembly complex where Jeep Liberty and Nitro sport-utility vehicles are made.
It has filed an application for an air pollution permit with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to accommodate 2013 model year vehicles.
Details of the expansion are limited in the draft air quality permit, but the company does say it wants approval to release additional pollution up to a production rate for the plant of 327,000 vehicles annually — more than 350 percent of the plant’s 2010 production of 91,973 vehicles.
The adjoining plant in the assembly complex which makes Jeep Wranglers last year produced 144,685 vehicles, a trade report shows.
A spokesman for Chrysler also declined to comment on the permit application or the proposed plant expansion.
Chrysler's Toledo Assembly Complex
- Size: 3.6 million square feet.
- Acreage: 312.
- Employees: 2,400 from Chrysler and on-site suppliers.
- Products: Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Liberty, and Dodge Nitro.
Officials from Gov. John Kasich’s office referred questions to the state Department of Development, which issued a statement. It said in part:
“As a normal course of business, the Ohio Department of Development talks with major Ohio employers, Chrysler Group included. Yes they do have a current application with the Ohio EPA; however we are not in a position to discuss exchanges between the company and the Department at this time.”
Local development officials either did not return phone calls seeking comment or would not comment on the proposal. Toledo Mayor Mike Bell could not be reached and his spokesman had no comment.
How much money Chrysler will invest in Toledo Assembly is unclear. But a sizable sum is expected. The company spent $600 million to build the first part of the assembly complex and $900 million to build the rest of it, all within the past 13 years.
Chrysler officials have hinted for nearly two years that its Toledo Assembly complex was due to receive an additional investment to expand production there. Sergio Marchi-onne, Chrysler’s chief executive officer, told The Blade in January that he expected to make an announcement about the Toledo plants “within six months.” He has said nothing more about it since then.
Experts expect the facility that makes Liberty and Nitro vehicles will be upgraded to make new vehicle lines and more vehicles which Chrysler’s owner, Fiat SpA, has indicated it wants to make in North America.
The Liberty/Nitro plant is Chrysler’s only assembly plant in North America still working just one shift per day.
Chrysler’s five-year business plan indicated that the Nitro’s continued production after the 2011 model year was an undecided question.
The plan indicates that the 2013 Liberty would be among the automaker’s first vehicles to use a smaller platform from Fiat that is to underpin at least eight high-volume mid-sized cars, crossovers, and SUVs between now and 2014. However, details of the new Liberty have not been announced.
The automaker’s permit application, filed last week, indicates that an expansion of the body shop in the Toledo plant “is necessary to accommodate the 2013 model year vehicle platform. During the expansion, the automated welding process ... will be updated replacing some but not all welding equipment.”
Since emerging from bankruptcy in June, 2009, Chrysler has announced more than $3 billion in investments to its various manufacturing facilities, including the announcement Wednesday of $114 million to restart part of an idled engine plant in Trenton, Mich.
But none of that money has so far flowed to its plants in Toledo. The automaker’s Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance plant in Dundee, Mich., has received nearly $330 million in upgrades and additional work.
Local officials with the United Auto Workers could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but have actively sought additional work from Chrysler since Fiat took over.
Mike Jackson, head of North American vehicle forecasting at IHS Automotive in Northville, Mich., said the Fiat platform opens up a range of Chrysler vehicles that could be produced in Toledo.
“What’s interesting here is along with the plan to leverage global architecture, they have a tremendous amount of flexibility,” he said.
The Ohio EPA said it would hold a public hearing and information session on the draft air permit from Chrysler at 6:30 p.m. July 14 in the West Toledo YMCA auditorium.
The air quality permit applications also seek approval to add a “new foam injection process” that would put foam into vehicle cavities to add sound deadening to future vehicles as they move along the production line.
Business writer Sheena Harrison contributed to this report.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: