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Published: Saturday, 5/18/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Chrysler delays start of production for Cherokee until June

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
This undated product image provided by Chrysler shows the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The Cherokee will be built in Toledo. This undated product image provided by Chrysler shows the 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The Cherokee will be built in Toledo.
CHRYSLER GROUP LLC Enlarge

Know of a good tattoo removal service? Sergio Marchionne might be grateful to hear from you.

Earlier this year in Detroit, the ever-colorful Chrysler chief executive confidently told reporters the new Jeep Cherokee would go into production on May 23 — Thursday. How confidently?

“May 23rd is the date that the car goes into production. So if you want to, write that down or tattoo it on your arm. I have it tattooed on my private parts,” he quipped.

Presumably Mr. Marchionne was joking. No one asked for proof. But Chrysler Group LLC isn’t quite ready to start full-scale production of Jeep’s radical new sport utility vehicle on Thursday.

Last month, a more serious Mr. Marchionne told analysts on an earnings call the Cherokee would launch “sometime in the middle of June.” He didn’t provide a specific explanation for the delay, though he did later say it is a “complicated industrial launch.”

In spite of the pushed-back date, Chrysler says the vehicle is on track to be in dealerships sometime in the third quarter as previously announced.

Friday, a Chrysler spokesman said the company cares more about getting the Cherokee right than meeting any arbitrary dates. “Our focus is on building the best-quality vehicle for our customers, not the date,” spokesman Jodi Tinson said.

The Cherokee is Jeep’s replacement for the Liberty, which has been out of production since August. Chrysler spent $500 million to revamp and expand the Toledo Assembly complex in preparation for the new vehicle. The automaker is also hiring an additional 1,105 workers to put on a second shift.

A United Auto Workers official recently told The Blade production would begin in the middle of June. A story earlier this week in the Detroit Free Press pegged the start date as June 24.

Ms. Tinson declined to give a specific date and pointed to Mr. Marchionne’s comments on the conference call. “The story stands that production will start around June,” she said.

The Cherokee launch is a complex one. The vehicle uses an all-new nine-speed transmission and three new four-wheel-drive systems. The vehicle also has a new optional engine, though essentially it’s a sized-down version of the highly rated V-6 that powers the Wrangler and several other Chrysler Group products.

Company officials have told The Blade previously that there have not been difficulties with the Cherokee beyond what is expected for an all-new vehicle.

Chrysler hopes the Cherokee becomes a top competitor in what is the largest SUV segment in the United States. It’s more fuel-efficient than the Liberty and has a far nicer interior. The company has promised a better on-highway ride and say well-equipped Cherokees will hold their own off-road. Pricing hasn’t been announced.

Ms. Tinson said the plant is continuing to build pilot models, and is ready to move to full production as soon as it is given the green light.

Mr. Marchionne said the plant is capable of producing 275,000 to 280,000 vehicles a year.

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



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