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Chrysler CEO visits Toledo assembly plant

Marchionne celebrates Cherokee production

CHRYSLER-TAC-MARCHIONNE-06-jpg

Chrysler Group LLC Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne, left, watches a demonstration in the paint shop at Chrysler Group’s Toledo Assembly Complex on Thursday. This was his first visit since 2011, when he announced a $500 million investment in the plant to make the new Cherokee.

CHRYSLER GROUP LLC Enlarge

Chrysler Group’s chief executive officer made a stop in Toledo on Thursday, but he kept the meeting in-house.

A company spokesman said Sergio Marchionne visited the Toledo Assembly Complex to meet with employees and celebrate the beginning of production of the new 2014 Jeep Cherokee sport utility vehicle.

Production of that vehicle officially began June 24, Chrysler said. It is not yet on sale.

Mr. Marchionne was last at the plant in November, 2011, to officially announce a $500 million investment Chrysler was making to overhaul the plant in anticipation of the new vehicle.

“The decision we made clearly demonstrates the confidence we have in the Toledo Assembly Complex, in its future, and, moreover, in the commitment and quality of work of the people who work here,” he said at the time.

The company showed off the result of that work by giving media members a tour of the new production line last week and an update on the progress of the plant as it works toward building well over 200,000 Cherokees a year.

Thursday’s event was not open to the media, however, and Chrysler said Mr. Marchionne’s comments wouldn’t be publicly released.

A Chrysler spokesman also declined to comment on a report this week from a Detroit newspaper that the current version of the Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler may hang around until 2018, about two years longer than previously planned.

Citing supplier sources, the Detroit News said Chrysler has decided to continue building the current generation Wrangler until mid-2018. The Detroit News report also said Chrysler was extending production of the current Dodge Avenger and Dodge Grand Caravan.

The report could not be verified by The Blade. One supplier source told The Blade that the Detroit News article was the first that they had heard of it.

Chrysler introduced the current version of the Wrangler for the 2007 model year, and two months ago built the one-millionth vehicle.

The vehicle was given an interior upgrade for the 2011 model year, and a more powerful and more fuel-efficient V-6 engine for the 2012 model year. Under Chrysler’s product plan, an updated Wrangler is due around 2016.

Since Wrangler replaced the CJ, its earlier iteration, for the 1986 model year, Chrysler has brought out a new generation once every 10 years. That would be in line with the 2016 time frame. But Chrysler certainly isn’t having any trouble selling the Wrangler. Sales hit a record last year that should be surpassed this year.

And if Chrysler has the capacity to make more, it could surely sell them. Orders have outpaced Toledo’s production capacity, even as Chrysler has made small moves to squeeze more vehicles out of the plant.

Officials have said the company is looking at ways it could expand in Toledo to get more production, though Mr. Marchionne had said it wouldn’t happen until at least 2015.

Through June, Chrysler had sold 77,728 Wranglers, a 10 percent increase from the same period last year.

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

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