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Chrysler closing St. Louis plant, cutting truck production

Monday, June 30, 2008

Chrysler closing St. Louis plant, cutting truck production
Eric Morath / The Detroit News

Chrysler LLC will close its St. Louis South minivan plant and cut a shift at its St. Louis North pickup truck plant as the automaker adjusts to sliding sales for two of its most popular vehicles.

The automaker has also extended summer shutdowns at SUV plants in Detroit, Delaware and Toledo, said Chrysler Vice Chairman and President Tom LaSorda, but he declined to give specific lengths. Chrysler's Warren Trunk plant shut last week and will stay shut down until the first week of August, when the all-new 2009 Ram launches, Chrysler spokespeople confirmed.

"The auto industry is going though turbulent times and we are seeing a rapid consumer shift away from trucks and SUVs and toward fuel-efficient cars," LaSorda said. While he said he expects Chrysler to remain the leader in the minivan segment, consumer interest no longer supports two plants. Chrysler runs three shifts of minivan production in Windsor and a single shift in suburban St. Louis.

The St. Louis plant will "indefinitely idle," Oct. 31, LaSorda said.

The St. Louis truck plant will drop to a single shift beginning Sept. 2, once model changeover is completed there.

In total, 2,400 workers will lose their jobs.

Chrysler is extending shutdowns of other truck and SUV plants, while increasing production of cars and crossovers.

The Jefferson North plant in Detroit will idle for a month beginning July 11, two sources familiar with the Auburn Hills automaker's production plans said.

Jefferson North produces the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Commander. Slowing sales of those vehicles, as well as gas prices topping $4 per gallon, are causing the typical summer shutdown to be extended from two weeks to more than four. The plant will restart Aug. 11, the sources said.

Last week, workers at Chrysler Toledo North Assembly Plant learned their factory would shut this week and stay down until Aug. 25.

At the same time, Chrysler is ramping up production at two plants which make its smallest, most fuel-efficient cars.

Workers in Belvidere, Ill., where the compact Dodge Caliber, Jeep Patriot and Jeep Compass are produced, and workers in Sterling Heights, which makes the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, are working overtime, including some Saturdays -- although both of those plants lost a shift earlier this year.

The Patriot and Caliber were two of only four Chrysler vehicles to post improved year-over-year sales in May.

"We're busy here and working overtime," said Belvidere worker Karie Davis, a former Novi resident. "That's pretty good because we hear a lot of the plants in Detroit are going to be down for several weeks."

Earlier this month, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. announced layoffs, plant shutdowns and a realignment of their product mix toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

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