By Larry P. Vellequette, Crain News Service
DETROIT (Sept. 3, 2015) — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has decided to keep making the Jeep Wrangler in Toledo, Ohio, move production of the Jeep Cherokee to a nearby state and build a new Jeep pickup.
The news comes after 11 months of uncertainty about the fate of Wrangler production in its historic home in the Ohio city.
Details about the Wrangler and Cherokee were shared with Toledo plant management the morning of Sept. 1 in response to inquiries from Automotive News, based on an exclusive interview with FCA chief executive Sergio Marchionne on Aug. 21.
Automotive News has learned independently that Jeep will make a Wrangler-based pickup in Toledo, a move that will soften the blow of a transferred Cherokee — Jeep's best-selling vehicle.
Mr. Marchionne said that the auto maker has “found a solution” to how best to expand production of the Wrangler — in Toledo.
Details of the plan will be announced after FCA's contract talks with the UAW conclude; The contract expires Sept. 14. Separately, Automotive News has confirmed that the plan includes building a long-sought Wrangler-based pickup, likely in 2017 or 2018. That vehicle is under development.
In the interview, Mr. Marchionne provided some details of the emerging plan:
“We found a solution that accommodates a variety of other interests to us because of the way in which we can move some product around,” the CEO said. “It doesn't take a rocket scientist [to know] that the only way I can move around the Wrangler is to move it into the other Toledo plant.”
An FCA spokeswoman said the company would not comment and that the CEO's quotes stood for themselves.
Mr. Marchionne has said since January that he preferred to keep Wrangler production in Toledo.
FCA's Toledo Assembly Complex is composed of two plants: one smaller body-on-frame plant that builds the Wrangler and another nearly new unibody plant that builds the Cherokee. The two lines share some common parts staging, but otherwise operate independently.
The plan would require the unibody plant, locally known as Toledo North, to be converted to body-on-frame assembly. The redesigned Wrangler would launch there.
Loss of the Cherokee is a blow to Toledo, which had sought to keep the vehicle and expand Wrangler production. Through August, the Cherokee is Jeep's top-selling vehicle in the U.S., averaging 17,611 sales per month. However, that wound may be salved if new vehicles to be added prove as popular.