Chrysler workers celebrated the future in Sterling Heights, as they officially launched a new set of mid size cars at a factory that had been on the closing list.
“The only joy in all this is to make people’s lives better,” said Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Today is a great day. These people are going to have a decent Christmas.”
When Chrysler went into bankruptcy in 2009, Sterling Heights Assembly was put into the “old Chrysler” that was to be disposed of in bankruptcy, meaning that the plant would close. But workers kept pushing to keep it open.
“I was absolutely convinced that this plant would be saved,” said worker Bob Roberts, who turned down a buyout to help keep the plant open.
“It’s exciting to go from basically, death row, to we’ll be one of the most technically advanced production facilities in the country.”
Chrysler is going to put $850 million into the Sterling Heights plant for a number of upgrades, including a new paint shop. Early next year, they’ll add a second shift, with 900 new workers, all making the “second tier” wage, half of what veteran workers make.
It was a combination of things that kept the plant open, said CEO Marchionne, including efficiencies, tax breaks, and the new second tier wage scale.
“It made the survival of this industry, and created the conditions for it to go forward,” he said. “In the absence of that commitment, we couldn’t have made it.”
Sterling Heights is now building the new Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200. The 200 replaces the much maligned Chrysler Sebring. A Chrysler 200 convertible will be out in the summer.
The cars have a long list of improvements, from new hoods and more attractive outside styling to new tires and a new optional V-6 engine. They have been retuned and lowered for a smoother — and, in the Avenger’s case, a sportier — ride. Inside, they have cushier seats, new instrument panels designed to complement each brand — elegant for Chrysler, more sporty and masculine for Dodge — and new steering wheels.
On the 200, which is Chrysler’s first crack at moving its Chrysler brand upscale, Chrysler said it made 45 different improvements just to dampen wind noise, from new window glass to a new engine mounting system.
Chrysler’s decision to save Sterling Heights assembly is a boost for not only the workers, but the entire community, says the city’s mayor Richard Notte.
“Don’t it make you feel good that you’ve got some job security now,” he told the worker. “You folks have been through hell!”
Chrysler is well aware of the challenge ahead.
“We only have one chance to make it right,” said Tyree Minner, manager of the Sterling Heights plant.
The Associated Press contributed to this report