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Jeep complex would gain workers but lose Nitro, Liberty models


When it comes to building automobiles, the price Toledo pays for jobs may mean losing part of our cool.

But here's the question: Is Toledo mature enough to handle trading in its Jeep for a minivan?

A source within Fiat SpA told the Automotive News trade publication this week that one plan being studied by the Italian automaker would move Chrysler LLC's minivan production from its home in Windsor, Ont., to the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex where the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro are made. Those products would either be eliminated or moved to another plant.


Chrysler and Italian automaker Fiat have a week left to cobble together an intercontinental shotgun marriage to save the struggling U.S. automaker from bankruptcy and potential liquidation.

Negotiations are intense among the stakeholders - Canadian and U.S. autoworkers, the Canadian and U.S. governments, and bondholders among them - in hopes of saving Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep from joining Studebaker, Kaiser, Packard, and others on history's automotive scrap heap.

Trading a Liberty for a minivan, which some consider an uncool vehicle, would mean significant changes and give Toledo a vehicle segment it has never had before.

Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant produced almost 340,000 Dodge, Chrysler, and Volkswagen minivans in 2008, working three shifts in the automaker's largest and most-flexible assembly plant. The plant has built Chrysler minivans since the revolutionary design was introduced 25 years ago.

By comparison, the Toledo factory making Liberty and Nitro, which opened in 2001, is about half the size of the Windsor plant. Last year, the local plant produced about 121,000 Libertys and Nitros - first on three shifts, then on two, and finally, with only one shift per day.

Minivans are less popular than they once were, but many competitors like Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. have given up trying to compete in the segment that Chrysler created a quarter century ago.

Chrysler officials do not comment on speculation on where vehicles may be made.

Moving the minivans to Toledo would mean Chrysler would have to recall the more than 250 workers on indefinite layoff, plus likely transfer laid-off workers from other plants to Toledo - or hire new workers locally - to recreate the three shifts it had in January, 2008. It would then have to run the factory at capacity around the clock to keep up with current minivan demand, local union officials say.

Cash-strapped Chrysler - which will get no outside money if it proceeds with a marriage to Fiat except for a $6 billion loan from the government - might need $500 million to retool the Toledo factory to make minivans, said James Harbour, chairman of the Harbour-Felax Group, a Detroit-area consulting firm.

If the automaker wanted to move production of its minivan from Windsor, reopening a minivan plant it closed in St. Louis last year would be far less expensive than retooling the Toledo factory, he said.

"You don't do dumb things like that, especially when you don't have any money," Mr. Harbour said.

Article:toledoblade.com --
 
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