Products pack some power in UAW talks

Which plant gets what plays into jobs

Fiat Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., plant, home of the Dodge Dart and Jeep's Compass and Patriot, could also become a source of output for the popular Jeep Cherokee. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

Detroit 3 job and product commitments have been big sweeteners in the prior two rounds of contract negotiations with the UAW. With several factories hungry for new and replacement vehicles to build, such commitments are sure to be a part of this year's contracts as well.

UAW negotiators are in the home stretch of bargaining with the Detroit 3. The current four-year contracts expire Monday, but can be extended by mutual agreement.

Hourly job security used to hang on the Jobs Bank, which guaranteed laid-off workers almost full pay until they could be reinserted into the work force.

But since the Jobs Bank's demise in 2009, the best job security comes from building a popular vehicle productively, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the industry and labor group at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

All three automakers have plants and products in play this cycle.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' apparent decision to move the Jeep Cherokee from Toledo, Ohio, and CEO Sergio Marchionne's comment about bringing trucks back to the U.S. from Mexico could set off a chain of product movement.

The Cherokee shares a platform with the Dodge Dart, assembled in Belvidere, Ill., and the Chrysler 200, built in Sterling Heights, Mich. Either of those plants could build the Cherokee within a short time using existing lines and tooling.

According to the automaker's May 2014 future product plan, several new vehicles from FCA's U.S. brands will need to find assembly homes, including the Chrysler 100, a Dodge subcompact hatchback, a single replacement for the Jeep Compass and Patriot, the Jeep Grand Wagoneer and two Chrysler crossovers, one midsize and one full-size.

Demand for the Chevrolet Sonic, shown, and Buick Verano has plunged, likely putting GM's Orion assembly plant north of Detroit in play for new product.

At Ford Motor Co., the big question is what will replace the Focus and C-Max at Michigan Assembly in suburban Detroit after those vehicles move elsewhere -- likely Mexico -- in 2018. A return of the Ranger pickup and a related SUV, possibly called the Bronco, are among the options under consideration.

Ford has said the Lincoln Continental will be made in Flat Rock, Mich., starting next year, but that plant has additional capacity.

At General Motors, questions hang over the Orion Assembly plant north of Detroit, where the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano are assembled. Sales of both small cars have slumped this year, and industry forecasters expect the next-generation U.S. Verano to be built abroad, either in China or Mexico.

The Chevy Bolt electric vehicle is scheduled to start production at Orion by the end of 2016. And GM in June said it plans to make an "all-new vehicle" there by 2018, which sources peg as a small Cadillac crossover. But the 4.3-million-square-foot plant should have plenty of capacity even after those relatively low-volume vehicles are added.

Nick Bunkley, Mike Colias and Larry P. Vellequette contributed to this report.

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: @barkholzatan

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