Report: Chrysler CEO says company could move Wrangler production out of Toledo by 2017

RAW: Full interview with Larry Vellequette
A Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
A Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Chrysler Group Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne
Chrysler Group Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne

TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - According to a report by on Thursday, Chrysler's CEO says the company could move Jeep Wrangler production out of Toledo by 2017.

AutoNews reports CEO Sergio Marchionne says the next Jeep Wrangler may be built on a unibody platform with a smaller, turbo-charged engine and an aluminum body. Marchionne says that would likely mean moving Wrangler production out of Toledo, according to AutoNews.

When asked to comment on the matter, Toledo Chrysler spokesperson Jodi Tinson released the following statement:

I can't. I wasn't with him. Unfortunately, as in the past, his comments are entirely his and we won't elaborate further.

Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said "I am fully confident that Chrysler's business model will respect Toledo's ties to the Jeep product" after hearing what Marchionne said in Paris Thursday.

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Ohio Governor John Kasich said, "The governor spoke with Mr. Marchionne just a few weeks ago and JobsOhio is constant dialogue with the company, including today."

JobsOhio is the state's private economic development arm.

Marchionne spoke about the future of the Wrangler at the Paris Auto Show on Thursday. Read the full story from AutoNews here.

Union reaction

AutoNews spoke to UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower, who said moving Jeep production out of Toledo would be a slap in the face to workers.

"Our members have done everything they've been asked to do and more to meet demand for Wrangler, our community has done everything it could to meet demand for Wrangler, and this is just totally unacceptable," Baumhower told AutoNews. "They can talk about anything they want to do with how the Wrangler is made -- whether it's aluminum or a different powertrain or whatever -- but it has to be made in Toledo, in its birthplace."

Baumhower says he expects Toledo Jeep plant workers to turn out 516,000 vehicles this year - more than any other auto plant in the country.

"These guys lead the planet in world-class manufacturing," he said. "They've hit homerun after homerun. They don't deserve to be in a conversation that talks about taking work out of Toledo."

He says roughly 1,700 jobs are on the line if Wrangler production is moved from Toledo, but Marchionne says there will be zero impact on head count and employment levels. He has not clarified what that means for current Wrangler employees, some of whom work seven days a week, putting in 60-70 hours weekly.

"This is our bread and butter," said UAW Jeep Unit Chairman Mark Epley. "Every one of us is devastated about what's going on."

"I don't care if they make it out of aluminum, if they make it out of steel, if they make it out of whatever they're going to make it out of. It's got to be made in Toledo, Ohio. We've earned that and we're going to demand that and expect nothing less than that," said Baumhower.

"He knows we've got the best work force and we put out the best car that Chrysler's got, and I don't see them taking the Wrangler out of Toledo. Toledo Wrangler has always been here," said worker Kurt Kruger.

Previous talk of Toledo Wrangler expansion

"There have been no talks at all about ever replacing the Wrangler in the Toledo area," said Denny Amrhein at Grogan's Towne Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram. "I'm just praying like heck that it's just talk."

In January of 2014, Marchionne told media at the Detroit Auto Show that Chrysler was looking at expanding the Toledo Wrangler plant to boost production without shifting production out of Toledo.

"We're looking for ways to increase output of that plant, because one of the commitments we've made is never to produce the Wrangler outside of Toledo," he said.

At the same time, the Chrysler CEO said decisions would be made this year regarding updating the Wrangler.

"We got to take some weight out and second, we have to improve its powertrain capabilities," Marchionne said.

Just days later, Marchionne said a new Wrangler plant in Toledo was also a possibility. Port Authority President Paul Toth said the former Jeep Parkway site was primed for the possibility of a new facility.

"The redevelopment of the old Jeep site, I think, is critical to make sure we are in place to take advantage of positive momentum going on in the auto industry, and especially the Jeep brand," Toth said at the time.

In May of 2013, the one millionth Wrangler JK rolled off the production line in Toledo. Workers at the plant were proud and excited for the achievement. They said they were looking forward to building a million more Wranglers.

"They work endless hours to build that car," said Dan Henneman, chief unit chairman of UAW Local 12. "A lot of quality goes into it, a lot of craftsmanship. We couldn't be happier or more proud of what's going on here in Toledo."

That same year, Fiat Chrysler invested $500 million in the Toledo Jeep plant to accommodate production of the new Jeep Cherokee.

Sales growth and Toledo impact

As recently as September of this year, sales for Jeep were up 47 percent and they experienced their best September sales ever. Sales of the Wrangler, specifically, were up 16 percent compared to a year ago.

"I think it's excellent, especially excellent here for the community, the city, Lucas County," said Toledo resident Sonya Morris. "It's giving everybody work."

And as demand for the Toledo-made Jeep Wrangler and Cherokee increased, local dealers are seeing the benefit, as well.

"We see a lot more people coming in on the cars that are locally-built because a lot of people partake – family members and everybody else in the building – of these vehicles," said Yark Automotive Sales Manager David Thomas.

Jeep has seen year over year monthly sales growth for the past 54 months.

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