The Chrysler group's Dodge Durango factory in Newark, Del., is not the industry's most technically advanced assembly plant.
Even though the automaker just completed a $400 million renovation of the plant, the work did not result in the sort of multiproduct, quick-change assembly operation the industry is focused on these days.
The investment bought Newark a new paint system and body line to help it build Durangos - redesigned for the 2004 model year - more efficiently.
Newark represents Chrysler's philosophy on modernization. The auto industry may be buzzing about flexible auto plants. But for a penny-conscious auto-maker, the relevant question is: How do you keep up with the industry while holding down capital spending?
For the Chrysler group, the answer is brownfield renovations - undertaken one at a time, gradually over years and timed to coincide with major product changes, when plant updates would be necessary.
"Our objective is to do this without a lot of brick and mortar," says Frank Ewasyshyn, the company's senior vice president for advanced manufacturing engineering.
Many automakers think plants must be able to move different products through the same welding operations, paint booths and assembly lines. That allows companies to change their production plans in the face of a fickle sales market or shuffle vehicles from factory to factory as plans change.