Labor leaders in Canada made their pitch last week to the Chrysler group's new CEO, Dieter Zetsche, to preserve a $1.5 billion investment in a plant in Windsor, Ontario.
The plant was scheduled to assemble a Dodge full-sized sport-utility, but that plan is now less certain.
The company, desperate to cut costs, has started a vast review of group operations. Zetsche met last week with Canadian Auto Workers officials and UAW President Steve Yokich.
The company told suppliers last summer that it planned to assemble the next-generation Ram pickup at Windsor's Pillette Road plant in the summer of 2002. Shortly after that, production was to shift to a new Dodge-brand full-sized sport-utility based on the Ram platform. Construction of the plant's expensive new paint shop is under way.
UP IN THE AIR
But before Zetsche's arrival from Germany on Nov. 20, the company told the union that it had decided not to build the pickup at the plant, said Ken Lewenza, president of the CAW local in Windsor.
The company did not tell the union what the replacement vehicle was, he said.
Bloomberg News Service last week quoted one source in the company as saying the full-sized Dodge sport-utility has been canceled.
Nevertheless, Lewenza put an optimistic face on last week's meeting with Zetsche. 'I have never left any meeting, including the one on Tuesday, with an apprehension whatsoever that the project would stop,' he said.
Trevor Hale, a Chrysler group spokesman, said it is 'too early to comment' on the future of Pillette Road. The plant assembles full-sized Dodge vans, scheduled before Zetsche's review to be killed in summer 2002.
Lewenza said Zetsche told him that he is not just cutting costs and understands the importance of investing.
Buzz Hargrove, CAW president, said he told Zetsche that the company's Canadian plants have significant cost advantages over American plants, as well as good quality and productivity.
'The old management team understood Canada, and the CAW wanted the new guys to as well,' he said.
Jim Holden, who was fired and replaced by Zetsche, grew up in Canada.
Staff Correspondent Bob English contributed to this report