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b3jeep An employee works on the the new Jeep Cherokee line at the Toledo Assembly Complex.
An employee works on the the new Jeep Cherokee line at the Toledo Assembly Complex.
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Published: Monday, 11/18/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

TOLEDO ASSEMBLY COMPLEX SETS LOFTY TARGET

Chrysler’s 2014 plant goal just over 500,000 vehicles

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The man in charge of Chrysler’s Toledo Assembly complex said Monday the plant is expected to build more than a half-million vehicles next year, making it one of the highest-volume assembly plants in North America.

Speaking before the Toledo Rotary Club, plant manager Zach Leroux said the facility is well on track to be able to crank out more than 506,000 vehicles in 2014. Workers at the plant built approximately 275,000 vehicle last year and have built approximately 226,000 vehicles through October this year.

Chrysler builds the Jeep Wrangler and new Jeep Cherokee at the Toledo facility.

“Our [company-wide] goal next year is 2.8 million vehicles, so you can see where 500,000 vehicles fit in there,” Mr. Leroux said. “You can only do that with a dedicated workforce.”

Chrysler Group LLC officials several years ago set ambitious goals to reach global sales of 2.8 million cars and trucks by 2014, more than doubling its 2009 sales of 1.3 million.

If Chrysler reaches 2.8 million sales with 500,000 vehicles coming from Toledo, the plant would represent nearly 18 percent of Chrysler Group’s worldwide sales.

The plant hired more than 1,800 new people ahead of launching the Cherokee, bringing total plant employment to about 4,000.

Zach Leroux, manager of the Toledo Assembly Complex, speaks during a meeting of the Rotary Club at the Park Inn in Toledo. He said Chrysler wants to make more than 506,000 vehicles in Toledo in 2014. Zach Leroux, manager of the Toledo Assembly Complex, speaks during a meeting of the Rotary Club at the Park Inn in Toledo. He said Chrysler wants to make more than 506,000 vehicles in Toledo in 2014.
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As it is now, the Toledo Assembly Complex continues to crank out Wranglers as fast as it can to satisfy record-setting demand. The plant has been building the Cherokee since June, but the vehicle just went on sale in the United States a little less than a month ago. Mr. Leroux said Monday the line is zeroing in on full-volume production.

“Now we’re producing on both shifts, six days a week, 10-hour shifts, with the goal of full volume. And we’re about 90 percent there,” he said. “We’re still working out some of the equipment bugs, [and] some of the processing bugs to make sure we’re able to achieve it, but we’re 90 percent of the way there now, and very shortly we’ll be there.”

Through October, the plant had built about 36,000 Cherokees. Many of those were built before the vehicles started shipping to dealers. Some last-minute tweaks Chrysler deemed necessary to the Cherokee’s transmission programming kept the vehicles in containment weeks longer than expected.

The Willys Wheeler, a special-edition Jeep Wrangler, is expected to go on sale early next year. The Willys Wheeler, a special-edition Jeep Wrangler, is expected to go on sale early next year.
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That led to a short layoff in late September as Chrysler temporarily idled one of the two shifts of workers building the Cherokee, though outside of that Mr. Leroux said the impact of the backup didn’t really affect work inside the plant.

“You would build the vehicle and they would be shipped like they were going to a dealership, but they were going to a holding yard until the containment was released,” he said.

Jeep will eventually sell the Cherokee in 150 countries, but for now vehicles are only being built for the North American market. Mr. Leroux said production of vehicles for export is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of next year.

Chrysler on Monday also announced plans for yet another special-edition package on the Wrangler. The Willys Wheeler Edition is an effort by Jeep to connect the current Wrangler to its origins. Jeep says the Wrangler Sport-based Willys Wheeler comes with upgraded off-road drivetrain features and special decals that recall the original CJ.

The Willys Wheeler is expected to go on sale early next year.

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



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