Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, left, waves to the crowd as Toledo Assembly Complex plant manager Mauro Pino drives him off the plant floor.
The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Calling Jeep “truly one of the world’s most legendary brands,” the head of Chrysler Group LLC said Wednesday that Toledo Assembly complex is getting a $500 million investment and 1,100 more jobs to make the replacement of the Jeep Liberty and possibly other vehicles.
The long-awaited announcement means a new body shop and quality center will be built at the factory which makes not only the Liberty but the Dodge Nitro. The Nitro, however, is due to end production next month. It wasn’t immediately clear what will replace the sport utility vehicle.
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“The decision we made clearly demonstrates the confidence we have in the Toledo Assembly complex, in its future, and moreover, in the commitment and quality of work of the people who work here,” Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told a crowd of hundreds of workers as well as dignitaries including Gov. John Kasich, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), and Toledo Mayor Mike Bell.
The factory halted production for the announcement, while the neighboring factories in the complex which make Jeep Wranglers keep working.
Mayor Bell, in his speech, called the investment “the equivalent of a blood transfusion” for a city struggling with high unemployment and significant poverty.
Mr. Kasich said the announcement should help remove what he called “sort of a pall hung over” Toledo.
Chrysler’s announcement exceeded its previous indications of a $365 million investment in the Liberty/Nitro plant, but it did not explain what vehicles may be coming to the facility. Some industry experts say it could allow Chrysler to make four or five vehicles at the facility.
Miss Kaptur said the investment would continue Toledo's automotive tradition.
"For over 100 years our community has been producing cars and more importantly, distributing platforms for America's transportation system," she said. "Jeep is a global trademark that has come symbolize (the work force), our town, and America. Rugged, reliable, resilient, and free as the open road."
Mr. Marchionne, who became Chrysler chief executive in 2009 after Chrysler emerged from an expedited bankruptcy that saved the company with federal bailout money, has implemented world class manufacturing standards at Chrysler plants, and the Liberty/Nitro factory has made great strides toward those standards, reducing costs and making production more efficient.
When the factory gets its audit next week, some workers said, it hopes to have the highest score on those standards among all Chrysler plants.
Chrysler said it would add a second shift at the factory as it makes the replacement for the Nitro and potentially other vehicles. The factory is the only one of the company’s plants that currently only works one shift. The added jobs would come in the fall of 2013. Applications will be done through chryslercareers.com.
Included in the announcement is a 260,000 square foot expansion of the plant’s body shop and a 26,000 center aimed at improving vehicle quality.
The company said it would build a replacement of the Jeep Liberty in 2013, but the Nitro is not scheduled to be made after next month.
Chrysler has about 1,800 workers at the complex now -- some of whom make the Jeep Wrangler in a neighboring factory -- and said it will have about 2,800 by 2013. The new jobs will be filled mostly by new hires, who will be paid about half of the $29 an hour production workers now make.
Chrysler’s request for tax assistance and permits have indicated a potentially large increase in production volume at the Liberty/Nitro factory. At one point, the company talked about adding a stamping factory as well.
Overall, Chrysler said, it would invest $1.7 billion in developing the new generation of Jeep SUVs, of which the $500 million at Toledo Assembly is part.