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Chrysler is set to invest $500 million in Toledo Jeep assembly plant

Wed, 16 Nov 2011

Chrysler Group plans to invest $500 million in its Toledo North Assembly Plant and hire a second shift of workers over the next year to build a new Fiat-based SUV for Jeep, as well as other vehicles.

"This plant has been chosen to build the future Jeep SUV to replace the current Jeep Liberty that will be exported to markets all over the world," CEO Sergio Marchionne said at the plant Wednesday. "Jeep is at the heart of our plans to internationalize Chrysler, a process which is being accelerated by Chrysler's access to Fiat's distribution capabilities in Europe and Latin America."

Toledo North is Chrysler's only assembly plant with only one shift of workers. Wednesday's announcement is expected to add 1,105 hourly and salaried jobs to the plant, which builds the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro SUVs. Production of the Nitro will end in December.

According to documents presented to the City of Toledo this year, the automaker plans to add about 300,000 square feet to its body shop and quality lab at the plant, with improvements to its body-in-white, trim chassis final, paint shop and material handling facilities.

Toledo North builds unibody vehicles, while the attached Toledo Supplier Park builds the body-on-frame Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited. Together, the two plants, which operate under the same unified management structure, are known as Chrysler's Toledo Assembly Complex.

In applying for new air permits for the plant's expansion, Chrysler requested and was granted an increase in its permitted capacity for Toledo North to as much as 327,000 vehicles a year. In 2010, the plant produced 91,973 Liberty and Nitro units, off 61 percent from the 10-year-old plant's high of 237,719 Libertys in 2003.

The new Jeep SUV will replace the Liberty for the 2013 model year and will be Chrysler's first vehicle to ride on a Fiat platform, called CUSW, that will underpin as many as eight future compact- and mid-sized vehicles in North America.

Built in 2001, Toledo North is Chrysler's newest and most flexible unibody assembly plant, capable of building multiple vehicles simultaneously on the same assembly line. It had three shifts of about 900 hourly workers until late 2007.

The current Liberty was released for the 2008 model year by DaimlerChrysler, with styling that sought to evoke the SUV's ancestor, the Jeep Cherokee, which ended production in 2001 after a 17-year run.

The Dodge Nitro debuted as a slightly modified, rebadged Liberty in 2006 for the 2007 model year.

Chrysler has not announced its naming plan for the Fiat-based successor to the Liberty, which retained the Cherokee name for overseas sales since Liberty was introduced in 2001.

By Larry P. Vellequette- Automotive News