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Published: Friday, 1/25/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Chrysler drops shift from Dundee, Mich., facility employing 750

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
An employee adds an engine’s electrical harness at Chrysler’s Dundee Engine Plant. Chrysler chose to eliminate one of the plant’s shifts after somewhat disappointing sales of the Dodge Dart and Fiat 500. An employee adds an engine’s electrical harness at Chrysler’s Dundee Engine Plant. Chrysler chose to eliminate one of the plant’s shifts after somewhat disappointing sales of the Dodge Dart and Fiat 500.
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DUNDEE, Mich. — Chrysler has cut production on one of its four-cylinder engines by eliminating a shift at the company’s Dundee Engine Plant.

Tom Zimmerman, plant unit chairman for United Auto Workers Local 723, said Thursday that the automaker gave word last week that it planned to do away with one of the two shifts building Chrysler’s 1.4-liter engine used in the Fiat 500 and some Dodge Darts.

Most of the approximately 60 workers who were on the second shift were moved to other jobs in the plant, Mr. Zimmerman said. However, some workers lost jobs as a result of the production slowdown.

Chrysler fired 14 employees who were days away from the end of their 90-day probationary period, Mr. Zimmerman said. Some UAW-represented contract employees in the plant also lost their jobs when they were bumped out by workers from the eliminated shift. The union didn’t immediately have figures on how many workers were affected.

A Chrysler Group LLC spokesman confirmed the shift elimination and the firings of 14 probationary employees, but did not have a tally on how many contract workers were bumped out, noting seniority issues are handled by the union.

Mr. Zimmerman said the union has filed grievances over the firings of the probationary workers because contract employees still work in the plant.

Dundee Engine, about 25 miles north of Toledo, is Chrysler’s sole source for four-cylinder engines. In addition to the 1.4-liter, Dundee also builds 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter engines that go in vehicles such as the Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, and Chrysler 200.

Mr. Zimmerman said production on the 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter engines remains brisk, with employees on two shifts working regular overtime. He expressed surprise that Chrysler was reducing production of the other engine.

“Those fellows had the pedal to the metal all summer,” he said. “Now we hit the brakes.”

The Dundee plant made more than 100,000 of the 1.4-liter engines in 2012.

A company spokesman said Chrysler is “rebalancing” its engine mix with the introduction of new engine options for the Dart.

Though the 1.4-liter is the sole powerplant for the Fiat, a turbocharged version of the engine is one of two options in the Dart.

A third Dundee-made four-cylinder engine is coming soon with the recently introduced Dart GT.

Chrysler officials have been somewhat disappointed with Dart sales, which totaled just more than 25,000 last year. Speaking with reporters at the North American International Auto Show last week, Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne put part of that blame on the smooth-shifting automatic transmission Chrysler paired with the 1.4-liter engine.

Though it returns good fuel mileage, the acceleration of the Italian-style setup didn’t meet the expectations of many American buyers.

“The powertrain solutions we made available to that car, in today’s world, in hindsight, were not the ideal solution,” Mr. Marchionne said.

The Dart eventually will get a nine-speed automatic transmission that will debut later this year in Chrysler’s replacement for the Jeep Liberty.

Dundee has been building the 1.4-liter engine since November, 2010, following a $179 million investment from Chrysler.

A second shift of production for the engine was added in August to support the Dart.

Chrysler says the plant employs about 750 people.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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