2nd shift for Cherokee resumes Monday, sooner than expected

New Jeep likely won’t get to dealers until Oct.

9/27/2013
BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
An employee works on the new Jeep Cherokee line in the
An employee works on the new Jeep Cherokee line in the "Body in White" shop on July 18, 2013.

Chrysler Group LLC’s laid-off employees will be back at work quicker than expected, but it seems a near certainty the company will miss its target to have the new Jeep Cherokee in showrooms by the end of the month.

A company spokesman said Thursday that Chrysler plans to resume building the Cherokee on two shifts starting Monday.

“As we continue to refine the vehicle’s powertrain software, we are implementing a plan that will allow us to make the required updates more quickly than anticipated, thereby making additional layoffs unnecessary at this time,” Chrysler spokesman Jodi Tinson said in an emailed statement.

The automaker idled the Cherokee’s afternoon shift at the end of last week to keep its inventory levels under control and to allow for more testing of vehicles that had been built. Chrysler said it expected the layoffs to last approximately two weeks.

Some Cherokees were spotted being driven Wednesday in Ottawa Lake, Mich., at a former Dana Holding Corp. testing facility.

Chrysler didn’t publicly say what sort of testing it was asking employees to perform.

However, sources said the work was at least partially related to the same transmission calibration issues that Chrysler Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne previously acknowledged had caused delays.

Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, said Thursday that Chrysler has found the right programming to get the transmission to operate properly, and has tested the solution.

Now it just has to get that update into the vehicles that have been built. That numbers several thousand.

“They got it right now, and they’re working to spread the fix to the rest of the inventory,” he said.

Mr. Baumhower reiterated that nothing physically was ever wrong with the Cherokee, but it did take some additional time for Chrysler to get the transmission programming right. In the meantime, the company held all Cherokees it had built in containment at the factory and other undisclosed locations around Toledo.

Chrysler officials have downplayed concerns over the vehicle’s engineering, saying the Cherokee is a complex design with many all-new components and it’s not uncommon for last-minute tweaks to be needed before a new vehicle is launched.

Ms. Tinson echoed those comments Thursday while reiterating Chrysler’s stance that it will not ship the Cherokee until it believes everything is 100 percent correct.

“This is the world’s first application of a highly technical, nine-speed transmission,” she said. “On top of that, it is being mated to two new engines and three complex [four-wheel-drive] systems. As our senior management has stated many times before, we will only introduce a vehicle to consumers when we are completely satisfied.”

Though Chrysler hasn’t come right out and said when shipments to dealers will start, it seems nearly impossible that the Cherokee will be in dealerships by Monday to meet Chrysler’s previously announced “by the end of the third quarter” deadline.

Still, the hope is that shipments could begin soon. Mr.

Baumhower said the word from the plant is that the first shipments could be just a few days away.

“We could be releasing cars as early as next week,” he said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at:

tlinkhorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.