Marchionne: 'Done' discussing minivan plant's future

An employee installs interior components on a minivan at Chrysler's plant in Windsor, Ontario, in a file photo.
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DETROIT -- A terse Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters that he was “done” discussing the long-term future of the automaker’s Windsor assembly plant after the company withdrew its controversial request for Canadian government support for the plant’s upgrade.

Speaking at a celebration of the launch of the redesigned Chrysler 200 sedan in Sterling Heights, Mich., Marchionne said Chrysler and Fiat weren’t interested in efforts in Canada to restart discussions on an incentive package to secure the plant where all of Chrysler’s minivans are built.

Those discussions ended abruptly this month after comments from Canadian politicians calling the request a “ransom” and “corporate welfare” turned the process into what Chrysler called “a political football.”

'That chapter is closed'

“Chrysler is not in the business of accepting handouts. And if provincial and federal authorities in Canada think that’s the way to attract foreign investment, I think they are in for a big shock,” Marchionne said. “It doesn’t matter. It’s gone. That chapter is closed. Fiat-Chrysler has moved on. The agenda, from my standpoint, is complete.”

Marchionne said Chrysler had been in discussions with Ontario and federal officials about help for a $2 billion upgrade for the Windsor plant and the next-generation minivan for nine months. The Windsor plant was to receive $1 billion in upgrades, Marchionne said, similar to what was spent to “reinvigorate” the Sterling Heights Assembly plant where the 200 goes into production on Monday.

“This is a private capital investment decision by Chrysler Canada that it will make on its own terms. It’s asking nothing of anybody. It’s our decision,” Marchionne said when asked by journalists about what it would or wouldn’t do in Windsor.

Plant preparations for Chrysler’s redesigned minivans, the Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan, are expected to begin later this year in Windsor.

On to SHAP

Marchionne’s pointed comments about Windsor were stark in comparison to the praise that he heaped earlier on the Sterling Heights plant, known as SHAP.

“The revitalization of SHAP is an apt symbol of how far Chrysler has come because of the courage and resilience of our people,” Marchionne said in prepared remarks. “This plant was scheduled to close by the end of 2010. But the workers and the leaders of this community refused to accept this verdict as final.”

The now 5-million-square-foot factory had been deemed an unwanted asset as Chrysler entered bankruptcy protection in 2009 and set the factory to close at the end of 2010. But as Chrysler recovered from bankruptcy, it quickly discovered that it needed the factory’s capacity -- especially after the company restyled the Sebring and renamed it the Chrysler 200.

Sales of the renamed 200 shot up after it was included in a Super Bowl commercial featuring Detroit rapper Eminem in 2011.

Chrysler has invested more than $1 billion in the Sterling Heights plant that, in the 1950s, built the Redstone and Jupiter missiles that propelled both the nation’s nuclear deterrent and its space program. The investments added a new paint and body shop and now operates more than 1,100 robots inside the factory, located about 15 miles north of downtown Detroit. There are 2,775 employees at Sterling Heights, including about 200 salaried workers.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.


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