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

Jeep employees crank out one millionth ever-popular Wrangler JK

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The 1 millionth Jeep Wrangler JK to be built at the Toledo Assembly Complex rolls off the line on Friday. Wrangler production started at the plant in 2006. The 1 millionth Jeep Wrangler JK to be built at the Toledo Assembly Complex rolls off the line on Friday. Wrangler production started at the plant in 2006.
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Chrysler Group LLC recognized a milestone in Toledo on Friday, as the 1 millionth Jeep Wrangler built at the Toledo Assembly Complex rolled off the line.

Auto workers in Toledo have built Jeeps for more than 70 years, first cranking out all-purpose vehicles for the military and later transitioning to civilian models.

The Wrangler has been built at the Toledo Assembly complex since 2006, starting with the redesigned, 2007 model-year Wrangler, which Chrysler refers to as the JK model.

The plant has built more than a million of Jeep’s signature vehicle since then, and sales are stronger than ever.

“With the changes that we made to the interior in 2011 and the powertrain in 2012, the demand for the vehicle is just absolutely endless,” Plant Manager Zach Leroux said. “It’s a gorgeous vehicle.”

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Jeep sold a record 194,142 Wranglers worldwide last year, and officials anticipate selling even more this year.

Toledo is the only place Wranglers are built.

About 75 percent of Wranglers sold last year remained in the United States. However, Jeep sales overseas have been increasing, and Chrysler officials have made it clear they see room for growth.

To keep up with demand, Chrysler has increased the Wrangler line speed five times over the last two years, pushing production beyond the boundaries of what was originally planned when the plant opened.

Employees watch as the 1 millionth Jeep Wrangler rolls off the line at Chrysler in Toledo. Employees watch as the 1 millionth Jeep Wrangler rolls off the line at Chrysler in Toledo.
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Most recently, Chrysler added workers onto the line to run the line continuously without breaks.

Those increases, combined with working through regular shutdowns and lots of overtime, helped push Wrangler production to a record 196,308 last year. Mr. Leroux said the plant is on track to top that in 2013, aiming for 200,000 vehicles. Through April, the plant had built 72,368 Wranglers, up 8 percent from the same point last year.

Still, orders outpace the number Jeep is able to build, said Dan Henneman, the United Auto Workers Jeep unit chairman for the plant.

“The work force, they’re doing everything they can to meet the demand and we’re still coming up short,” he said. “I hope somebody decides what a great problem we have here and puts a little bit of money into this thing and allows us to build more Wranglers. I’m sure we can sell everything we can build.”

Top company officials have said an expansion is being looked at, though any plans would be years away.

Joe Szteiter, a 30-year Jeep employee, said he was proud to be part of a work force building what he called a world-class vehicle. He also marveled at how strong demand for the vehicle has been.

“It's amazing,” he said. “You wonder where they’re going. Seriously. If you think about it, the economy in some places is still bad, there are still people out of work, and we’re just selling every one we can build.”

Chrysler has sold 45,291 Wranglers in the United States through April, up 8 percent from last year.

Though Friday's event recognized the 1 millionth Wrangler built at the Toledo Assembly Complex — it was a black, 10th anniversary Rubicon edition — the total number of Wranglers built in Toledo is much higher.

The Wrangler replaced the CJ in 1986 and was originally built in Brampton, Ont. Production moved to Toledo in 1992 in a plant that has since been demolished.

Counting military Jeeps, the CJ line, and Wrangler, Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12, estimated Friday that Toledo has built about 6.1 million of the vehicles over the years.



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