Chrysler Group LLC gave a first look inside the expansion under way at its Toledo Assembly complex on Wednesday, showing off the $500 million project that will pave the way for a second shift and about 1,100 new jobs.
Plant manager Zach Leroux told reporters the last Jeep Liberty is scheduled to be built Aug. 16, confirming earlier reports.
Almost as soon as the final Liberty drives off the line, Chrysler will pick the floor clean, removing all equipment in preparation for the all-new production line that will build Liberty's replacement and ultimately could accommodate four additional models.
Already, construction crews have nearly finished the new 267,000-square-foot body shop. A 25,000-square-foot metrology center -- a high-tech room able to take precise measurements to ensure better fit and finish -- is also almost complete. "Right now, we're completely on time," Mr. Leroux said.
Once Chrysler stops building the current Liberty, the plant won't resume full-scale vehicle production until sometime in the second quarter of 2013. The second shift will be added in the third quarter of 2013.
Chrysler builds the Wrangler at a different part of the Toledo complex, and says it will not be affected by the Liberty shutdown.
Retooling the line is a huge undertaking. Chrysler says it will take 80 trucks a day about three weeks to empty that part of the complex. The equipment will be sent to other plants or scrapped.
When current Liberty line workers return, they'll come back to more automation and Chrysler's most state-of-the-art assembly line.
"We've got a lot of technology coming that's never been used in North America," said Doan Whitt, who is in charge of getting the body shop ready for the new vehicle.
To help Chrysler prepare for the new vehicle, the company is using a three-dimensional modeling system that allows users to virtually build the new model in 3-D. That helps organize the production line and gives engineers a better idea of how parts will fit together in assembly. The program even lets the operator animate a virtual autoworker to help find the most ergonomically ideal heights and positions as officials design work stations.
Mr. Leroux said hiring for the 1,105 new jobs will be done in two stages. Chrysler will hire about a quarter of the new work force in February. The rest will be hired a few months later as the automaker adds the second shift.
Most new hires will be on the new second shift, though some will be placed on the Wrangler line to take positions vacated by current employees who move to the new vehicle line.
All applications must be submitted through the ChryslerCareers.com Web site. Chrysler has not yet posted the Toledo positions, but the site has a new feature that allows potential applicants to fill out information and be alerted of open positions in their area.
A company spokesman said she did not know when the Toledo positions would be posted. Chrysler is now accepting applications through the Web site for jobs the Detroit area.
With the new jobs, total plant employment will reach about 3,000.
Chrysler focused Wednesday on plant upgrades, and officials said they would not take questions about the new vehicle, the name of which has not been announced.
Still, a few details sneaked out.
Liberty's replacement will be available in 12 colors instead of the 10 available. And a slide shown to journalists shows the vehicle will be launched in the United States with engine options of a 2.4-liter or a 3.2-liter.
Chrysler hasn't confirmed it, but several automotive publications have previously reported Chrysler is developing a 3.2-liter version of its popular Pentastar V-6 for the new Jeep. Chrysler's 2.4-liter engines are built at the Dundee Engine Plant, in Dundee, Mich., about 25 miles north of Toledo.
Chrysler sells the Liberty in 58 countries. Officials said they expect the new vehicle to be sold in even more markets, though no count was giveny. Analysts have said they see the Liberty replacement as an important vehicle for Chrysler's continuing expansion into international markets.
The first preproduction test models will be made in December.
Chrysler is expected to officially unveil the new vehicle at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
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