TOLEDO — (WWJ) Chrysler is getting ready to crank up production of it’s new Jeep Cherokee mid-size SUV.

“We’re right on track for where we expect to be,” said Toledo Assembly Complex manager Zach Leroux. “We’ll continue to press the envelope as we go forward.”

Clip: Chrysler workers on the line in Toledo.

Cherokee production began June 24th. The plant is currently building 150 Cherokees day, on one shift. They will add the second shift next month, and ramp up production until they reach 500 vehicles per shift.

Leroux took reporters on a tour of the complex today, showing off areas that have been redone, as the result of a 500 million dollar investment.

“We know from a manufacturing standpoint, changing a complete body shop, modifying a paint shop, modifying an assembly plant, bringing on 1100 plus people, we know we need a certain amount of time to train, to implement, to install, to debug that process and get it refined.”

Clip: Metrology Lab aims to reduce defects.

The entire Toledo complex has 2760 hourly and 184 salaried workers, including the 1100 new workers that have been added because of the expanded work. That includes two separate manufacturing facilities. Toledo North builds the new Cherokee. The nearby Toledo Supplier park, which opened in 2006, builds the Jeep Wrangler.

The complex replaced a factory that dated back to 1910.

Toledo North opened in 2001, building Jeep Liberties–a mid size vehicle that replaced the original Cherokee. When Chrysler decided to replace the Liberty with a new vehicle, based on a Fiat platform, they returned to the classic Cherokee name.

In addition to improvements on the plant floor, Chrysler showed off a new “Metrology Lab” that aims to correct defects in vehicles and manufacturing.

It’s part of Fiat’s World Class Manufacturing system that Chrysler is slowly implementing in all of its plants.

The 1100 new hires, Leroux says, were carefully screened.

“We had them go through an assessment center, really to determine whether or not they are appropriate people for this type of work.”

The goal is to find long term employees, and keep turnover to minimum. Leroux says they also understand that many people are leaving another job to take a position with Chrysler. So, they want to make sure it’s going to work.

“If you’re not successful, it’s a ‘lose-lost’ situation.”

The new Cherokee will play in one of the most popular segments, mid-size SUV’s. Chrysler dealers have been without a vehicle in that segment since the Liberty went out of production last year.

That makes Toledo a very important part of Chrysler’s strategy. Leroux, who’s been through about eight product launches in his career, says this is the most fulfilling.

“I’ve been with the company a little over 25 years…it’s probably the most exciting time I’ve been with Chrysler.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert


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