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Published: Tuesday, 2/12/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Chrysler seeks greater Wrangler production

Plant to add workers so line doesn’t halt for breaks

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Vera Coleman installs parts in a Jeep Wrangler at Chrysler's Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo. Vera Coleman installs parts in a Jeep Wrangler at Chrysler's Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo.
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Any time Chrysler Group LLC Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne talks about Jeep, you’re likely to hear two things — that the brand is key to Chrysler’s goal of international expansion, and that he’d sell more Jeeps if he had more to sell.

Under plans outlined to The Blade on Monday, he’ll soon get a few dozen more Wranglers each day.

Dan Henneman, Jeep unit chairman for the Toledo Assembly complex, said starting April 1, Chrysler will begin running the Wrangler assembly line through breaks and add a third shift to the Wrangler paint shop, allowing production of another 60 to 70 vehicles per day.

Right now, the line stops for workers’ 10 and 15-minute breaks, idling the line for 50 minutes per shift. Under the new arrangement, workers still will get the breaks, but the line will be kept moving by adding an extra worker to each team who will rotate through the jobs.

“It takes getting used to,” Mr. Henneman said. “It’s gotta be coordinated right.”

The exact number of workers to be added is unclear.

A Chrysler spokesman said Monday that none of the company’s assembly plants currently runs through breaks. She couldn’t confirm the details of what union officials were reporting.

Mr. Henneman said the extra shift at the paint shop — to be made up of about 70 workers — is needed to keep pace with the extra assembly. The rest of the plant will continue on its current two shifts.

Toledo is the only place Jeep Wranglers are produced.

The Toledo plant can build about 770 Wranglers a day right now. By keeping the line moving through breaks, that will jump to about 840 a day, Mr. Henneman said.

Faced with a hot-selling commodity in the Wrangler, the company has been examining its options to build more for some time. The company has twice increased the line speed since the plant opened in 2006. Last year, Chrysler also ran the line through the usual summer and holiday shutdowns.

Together, that all added up to 196,308 Wranglers built last year, up almost 19 percent from 2011.

But with record demand for the Wrangler, it wasn’t enough.

Chrysler sold 194,142 Wranglers worldwide in 2012, an all-time record. U.S. sales of 144,669 were also a record.

Chrysler said it sold 8,854 Wranglers in January, up 12 percent from the year before.

“Orders are still strong for the vehicles,” Mr. Henneman said. “I think if the company could, they’d take a thousand a day if we could make them.”

Company officials have said they were confident Wrangler sales could go even higher in 2013, indicating they believe they could squeeze some additional production from the Toledo plant.

But they can’t build more by speeding up the line without physically expanding the plant. Chrysler officials, including Mr. Marchionne, have hinted an expansion isn’t out of the question, but say it wouldn’t come until at least 2015.

Monday, Mr. Henneman said the coming arrangement was pitched by local United Auto Worker officials and agreed to by Chrysler.

“It’s just another way to show the UAW and the work force in Toledo are working hand-in-hand with the company to get more units,” he said.

The extra jobs created by the arrangement will be offered first to about 170 temporary part-time workers in the plant. Mr. Henneman expects more will be needed in addition to them.

If that’s the case, Chrysler would pull from its existing applicant pool of 10,000 resumes generated last year when the company opened hiring for the second shift on the Liberty successor.

Tyson Stoll, plant manager for Mobis North America, an on-site supplier that builds the Wrangler chassis, said his company is in discussions with Chrysler about the plan to run the line through breaks.

“The issue is we can’t build enough for what they’re selling,” Mr. Stoll said. “Everybody’s trying to come up with creative ways to produce more Wranglers. This is a step in that direction.”

Mobis currently can do 51 jobs per hour, while the assembly plant is running at about 44 jobs per hour.

“With our case, we have to almost mirror their production cycle,” Mr. Stoll said. “If they’re not going take breaks, we’re not going to take breaks.”

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



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