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Toledo Jeep factory a longshot to build new Ram pickup

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    Brian Sims, Jr., right, works on the final Jeep Wrangler JK produced on April 27 at the Toledo Assembly Complex.

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It may need finesse and possibly a third auto plant to convince Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to change course and build its planned mid-sized Ram pickup truck in Toledo.

The two assembly plants that Fiat Chrysler operates at its Toledo Assembly Complex don’t have production capacity for the smaller Ram pickup as they are currently configured, said Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12 that represents hourly workers at the complex.

That’s not to say room can’t be made for the highly-desirable product, Mr. Baumhower said. The city owns about 100 acres across Stickney Avenue from the complex that could house a new plant, he said.

“We’d love to build it here and there’s plenty of land to utilize if we need a solution to get it,” Mr. Baumhower said.

Toledo got on the national radar screen for the planned Ram pickup when trade publication Automotive News published a story Monday, saying the new pickup production was headed to Toledo for a 2020 launch. The story cited anonymous supplier sources for the news.

Toledo Assembly has a plant that began building the new-generation Jeep Wrangler in April and a neighboring plant that is scheduled to begin building a Jeep mid-sized pickup truck early next year.

The Automotive News story speculated that a Ram mid-sized would make sense in Toledo because it is to be built on the same underpinnings as the Jeep pickup, sharing components and requiring a similar manufacturing process.

However, Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Fiat Chrysler has not changed from its original announcement that a Ram mid-sized pickup would likely be built outside the United States, possibly at Fiat Chrysler’s assembly plant in Saltillo, Mexico, said spokesman Jodi Tinson.

That plan was laid out in June by the late Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler’s chief executive, at a product-reveal day in Italy. Mr. Marchionne reasoned at the time that the majority of sales for a smaller Ram pickup would be outside the United States.

Still, Mr. Baumhower said he hopes Toledo can get the vehicle.

The main challenge, he said, is that the hot-selling Wrangler will need every bit of the one Toledo plant to produce more than 300,000 vehicles annually that customers are demanding. The automaker is still ramping up production at that plant. Mr. Baumhower said workers are producing Wranglers today on pace for about 220,000 vehicles a year.

The other Toledo plant, where the Jeep pickup is to be made, is looking at a different set of challenges, the union leader said.

He said that unlike the other Toledo factory where a single vehicle body is assembled and placed individually on a vehicle frame, the Jeep pickup will have to have its cab assembled and painted separately from the truck bed and later joined. That process will effectively cut the plant’s annual output in half to about 100,000 vehicles, meaning that plant’s capacity likely used up for just the Jeep pickup, Mr. Baumhower said.

The vast majority of the 5,000 hourly workers and 1,000 salaried employees at the Toledo Assembly are at the Wrangler plant, while a skeleton crew operates at the Jeep pickup plant to get it ready for production. A few hundred workers were laid off during the factory overhaul for the Jeep pickup, but those will be recalled for work later.

A way to get enough capacity to also build a Ram pickup, Mr. Baumhower said, would be to build a third plant in the complex so pickup cabs could be built on one plant and beds in the other so they could later be joined after going separately through the paint shop.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority used a creative approach in 2006 to help the then-Chrysler to open what was then called Toledo Supplier Park to assemble vehicles in plants erected by the authority and leased to suppliers and Chrysler for the task. That campus is now called Toledo Assembly.

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