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In 1902, Thomas Jeffery and his son switched from making bicycles to building cars in Kenosha, Wis., propelling the then-small town of 22,000, located between Milwaukee and Chicago, into the automotive age. Over the next 105 years, Kenosha has grown to a population of nearly 100,000 and has clung to its automotive heritage, despite some turbulent times featuring storied names such as Chrysler, Dodge, Nash, American Motors Corp. and France’s Renault SA—all of which have built cars there. Automobile production ceased in 1987 when the former Chrysler Corp. purchased AMC, but engine output has continued uninterrupted, making Kenosha reputedly the home of the oldest continuously operated automotive plant in the world. Now Chrysler LLC is investing $450 million to retool the Kenosha engine plant for a new V-6 scheduled to begin production in 2011. The Kenosha upgrade is part of a $3 billion project initiated last February. Besides Kenosha, the project includes upgrading engine plants in Trenton, Mich., and Saltillo, Mexico, and a new joint venture in Kokomo, Ind., with Germany-based Getrag AG to produce a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission. The combined initiative, which is based on lean-production principles, aims for greater overall drivetrain efficiency and is expected to deliver major gains in fuel economy. Howard Brown, publisher of the Kenosha News since 1962 and who has witnessed first-hand the community’s automotive ups and downs, says the engine-plant deal demonstrates “the union and management have cooperated very effectively. I think the future looks relatively promising.” (Ward's Auto World)
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