WINDSOR, Ontario - Chrysler Corp. will beef up its minivan factory here to build more than just minivans, and the plant's union chief is lobbying for a Mercedes-Benz.
The automaker is pumping $500 million into the plant to make it more flexible, improvements that will be completed by the end of 1999, said Adrian Vido, plant manager.
With a flexible body shop and paint shop, plus flexible tooling, the plant will be able to build two different vehicles on the same line, he said.
Also, to make room for a new product, some of the existing minivan production could be moved to St. Louis South, Chrysler's other minivan plant, Vido said.
Windsor Assembly produces 375,000 minivans annually, he said.
The merger of Chrysler and Daimler-Benz AG is now only days away. Up to now, Chrysler has said it has no plant capacity to build a Mercedes-Benz vehicle in North America.
During a plant celebration here Thursday, Oct. 29, to mark the 15th anniversary of the Chrysler minivan, plant officials made it clear that the Windsor plant will have the flexibility to build another product by next year.
Moments before Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton, seated in a minivan, popped out of an enormous mock anniversary cake, a union official challenged him to bring a Mercedes-Benz product to one of two Windsor assembly plants.
'If DaimlerChrysler builds a minivan, build it in Windsor,' implored Ken Lewenza, UAW Local 444 president. 'I challenge Bob Eaton to be aggressive and bring that minivan here.'
In addition to the Windsor Assembly Plant, Lewenza noted that a second plant, Windsor's Pillette Road Assembly Plant, where full-sized Dodge vans are made, also has production capacity to build a Mercedes-Benz.
'That plant hasn't been fully utilized in the last 10 years,' he said. 'There's a lot of potential here and in Pillette.'
At Windsor Assembly, greater flexibility will reduce downtime during model changeover, Vido said.
'We will be in a position to do a rolling launch,' he said. 'There is no plant better positioned to take on a new product. The future is right here.'
Chrysler will introduce its next-generation minivans, known as the RS minivans, for the 2001 model year.
As part of the 15th anniversary celebration, Chrysler unveiled three concept minivans at the plant. All three were based on the existing NS minivan platform:
1. The Chrysler Pacifica was inspired by an executive jet. It has overhead storage bins, leather seats with power footrests and skylights that run the length of the roof. Its front end is similar to that of the 1999 Chrysler LHS sedan.
2. The Dodge Caravan R/T offers more power than is typical for a minivan. Its 3.5-liter aluminum V-6 engine generates 225 hp. It is equipped with a Chrysler AutoStick transaxle, rear spoiler and 18-inch wheels.
3. The Plymouth Voyager XG is powered by a 2.5-liter turbo diesel engine and has a five-speed manual transaxle. It will provide nearly 30 mpg. The XG has a retractable roof and removable storage pod that serves as an ice chest.