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Chrysler LLC ramped up production of the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot again in August even as sales of the fuel-efficient trio are somewhat sluggish.

In August, the more than 3,800 workers at Chrysler’s Belvidere assembly plant turned out 35,145 Calibers, Compasses and Patriots, breaking the plant’s monthly record set in June.

The company continues to churn out the trio record levels on three shifts despite the fact sales have leveled off for the Caliber and Compass and even the Patriot has not taken off as quickly as some auto analysts had predicted.

In August, workers finished 14,032 Patriots, the highest month yet for the small SUV that went into production in December. August also was the top sales month yet for the Patriot, which analysts liked because it takes its styling from the old Jeep Cherokee, with dealers selling 5,081 Patriots in the U.S. and another 673 internationally.

Still, through six months of sales, dealers have sold just 24,496 Patriots worldwide of the 66,899 made so far, or 36.6 percent. Even the Compass, which most analysts agree is struggling to find buyers, got off to a better start. At the end of December, dealers had sold 20,099 of the 52,362 Compasses built to that point, or 38.4 percent.

The Belvidere plant’s former parent company, DaimlerChrysler, pumped $419 million into the plant in 2005 and 2006 to make it the most automated of all Chrysler North American operations. Workers at the plant are able to change the production mix based on sales much more easily, hopefully keeping the company from having to idle the plant.

But if two of the three models struggle and dealers build up a backlog, a shutdown becomes much more likely. The Chrysler plant is the Rock River Valley’s largest manufacturing employer and a ring of suppliers with nearly 2,000 jobs between them rely on the plant as well.

Chrysler now is privately owned by New York-based Cerberus Capital Management, which installed former General Electric exec and Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli to run Chrysler.

Last week, Nardelli, who is a 1966 Rockford Auburn graduate, said in a public appearance that the company is going to look hard at unperforming products.

“Clearly Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep are all very, very valuable brands,” Nardelli said after a speech to the Automotive Press Association. “I think we have to look very hard at some of the product within those brands.

“We have to make intelligent decisions about the products and the brands,” Nardelli said. “We can’t just have emotional attachments about some of the products and brands that are out there.”

Another factor in the production rampage may be Chrysler’s negotiations with the United Auto Workers. The company is in talks with the UAW on a new national contract. The current contract expires Friday and the company may be trying to build up inventory in case of a strike. Nardelli said last week he thought a work stoppage will be avoided.

“I’m confident there’ll be a good outcome,” Nardelli said.


LINK:
http://www.rrstar.com/business/x473074814
 
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