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Published: Tuesday, 11/8/2011

Chrysler Toledo plan expected Nov. 16

CEO visit possible; firm mum on details

BLADE STAFF

Chrysler Group LLC is expected to announce plans for its Toledo Assembly complex on Nov. 16.

The long-awaited announcement, key details of which have been reported since August by The Blade, is expected to include $357 million in investment, adding 1,105 jobs, and an $8 million expansion at the complex’s factory which now makes Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro vehicles.

Some details of the plans previously were disclosed by the automaker through documents it provided to state and Ohio officials. However, the company has not made an official announcement.

It was not immediately clear whether Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne would be present, but some experts expected he would be. Chrysler said on Monday that it was not providing details on next week’s announcement.

Steve Fought, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), said Monday, “Yes, Marcy has been invited by Chrysler to an announcement, an event next Wednesday morning [Nov. 16]. She obviously is extremely hopeful about this, but we obviously do not know what they are specifically going to announce.

“The company, whether Mr. Marchionne or whoever, is going to make the announcement.”

Gov. John Kasich’s staff acknowledged the governor would be in Toledo that day but declined to say for what event.

Also unclear is how much of the company’s plans for the Toledo complex would be revealed.

Analysts believe the $365 million investment could be the first of a number of expansions — with additional jobs — at the site as the automaker ramps up production to meet global demand for up to seven current and future vehicles, including the Jeep Wrangler.

Although Chrysler’s plans submitted to state and local officials list adding only a second shift, a third shift at the Liberty/Nitro factory could occur if additional demand develops for new products, but that could be several years away.

The complex has about 2,500 Chrysler employees now.

Chrysler expects to complete its expansion by 2013, according to the application for government incentives. That application said it would add $36 million in payroll through 1,050 new production jobs at $14.65 an hour and 55 management jobs at about $90,500 each annually.

In August, when its tax assistance application was obtained by The Blade, the automaker did not disclose what vehicles would be built in the modified plant, but earlier filings said it wants the Liberty/Nitro factory to be able to build up to 327,000 vehicles a year, compared to the plant’s 2010 production of 91,973 vehicles.

Ultimately, analysts said, the Toledo Assembly complex, which includes the Wrangler plant, could build up to seven different vehicles, up from a current four, and have five — and possibly six — shifts of workers building new, more fuel-efficient sport utility vehicles and crossovers.

The Chrysler documents said the automaker would expand the body shop and add a welding facility at the Liberty/Nitro factory as well as upgrade its body, trim, paint, and materials handling operations.

That work would mean more production jobs on a second shift added to build a successor to the Jeep Liberty, along with what could be three or more similar vehicles. As Chrysler adds its second shift of 1,050 jobs, several suppliers to the complex are expected also to boost production and jobs.

A potential third shift could emerge if the automaker returns the Liberty/Nitro factory to three shifts a day, a work level not seen since 2007.

It was unclear whether Chrysler would announce additional work at the neighboring Jeep Wrangler plant at the complex.

Analysts associated with the Chrysler-centric Web site Allpar.com have said six or more vehicles could be made at Toledo Assembly: two-door and four-door Wrangler models, a new Jeep Liberty, a Chrysler-badged crossover, a Lancia-badged version of the same vehicle for export, and a new Alfa Romeo SUV.

If the complex were to make a possible capacity of 482,000 units a year, it would become the biggest U.S. auto assembly plant.



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