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Published: Tuesday, 7/29/2008

Dundee facility idle since November

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

DUNDEE, Mich. Foreign automakers may be coveting Chrysler LLC s idled Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance plant in Dundee, according to published reports.

But local officials and analysts don t think the newly built plant one of two in Dundee will be sold. More likely is putting it back into production.

A report last week from automotive industry site www.Edmunds.com cited unnamed sources who said several foreign automakers, including BMW AG, have toured the award-winning Dundee complex recently.

The site suggested that the idled GEMA south plant, built in 2006, would be a ripe plum hanging low for the picking, perhaps, by a currency-exchange-rate-battered European or Japanese automaker anxious to hike vehicle production in North America and thinking locally sourced engines also would be convenient.

Local government officials in Dundee said they had heard only whispers that the second engine plant might soon be put into production. But they haven t heard anything official or unofficial, Dundee Village Manager Patrick Burtch said.

I don t think that [Chrysler] is looking to sell the [south] plant, though, Mr. Burtch said.

When the facility opened in 2006, it was intended to be a $600 million experiment in global cooperation among three automakers: Chrysler, Japan s Mitsubishi Motors Corp., and South Korea s Hyundai Motors Co. Ltd.

The plant produces engine blocks that each automaker was to tune to its own specifications, a global engine that could be easily modified.

But since the north plant opened, only Chrysler has been utilizing the engines in North America.

The south plant, which would have given the whole facility an annual production capacity of more than 1 million, was online for less than a year before it was idled in November and its work was shifted to its sister facility next door.

Tommy Zimmerman, plant chairman for United Auto Workers Local 723, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In previous interviews with The Blade, however, Mr. Zimmerman touted the flexibility of his local s 450 members and their dedication to their jobs. Many of the plant s line workers have engineering backgrounds or college degrees.

In June, the north plant was named the most productive engine plant in North America during 2007 by the respected Harbour Report, published by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

David Elshoff, a spokesman for Chrysler, said the automaker would not comment on the plant s future or whether other automakers have been touring the facility recently.

He did say, however, that the Dundee complex has additional capacity available should its four-cylinder engine gain popularity.

The plant itself would certainly have capacity to meet both our companies needs, Mr. Elshoff said, referring to Chrysler and Mitsubishi and noting that Hyundai has dropped its interest in the facility.

[Four-cylinder engines] are all the rage and yet they aren t all the rage. There s still a demand for certain vehicles [with larger 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder engines], so we ll just wait and see.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:lvellequette@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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