The death of Chrysler's century-old chassis parts plant in New Castle, Ind., could have been slow and painful.
Instead, it is winning new business from new customers under a new owner - Metaldyne Corp.
Since Metaldyne bought out the Indiana operation this year, the Plymouth, Mich., supplier has announced a major contract to begin supplying Ford Motor Co. for the first time. Next week, the company also will announce its first business from an Asian-based automaker, reveals Joe Nowak, president of Metaldyne's Chassis Group, which now operates New Castle.
Nowak will speak to a Traverse City audience today about the project to breathe new life into New Castle.
Metaldyne's multi-step approach at the plant included:
*Installing $240 million worth of state-of-the-art machining equipment and other tooling. Nowak diverted much of the equipment from Ohio, where it had been ordered by a different Metaldyne plant.
*Reorganizing the plant's 1,200-member workforce, allowing several hundred to retire early and some to transfer back to Chrysler operations. The company also hired more than 500 new workers from the area.
*Winning a UAW wage reduction made possible by agreement with the union. The plant also dropped from about 30 job classifications to four.
*Moving the plant's product line of steering knuckles, spindles and control arms into more complex modules.
"I want to move us into knuckle-hub-bearing assemblies," Nowak says. "We have to do that if we want to be competitive in the future."
The Chrysler group had begun expanding New Castle in 2000, but that project stalled a year later when the automaker concluded that its chassis components were not core to its business. Facing financial troubles, Chrysler planned to allow older parts of the plant to wind down over several years with no plans for new business.
Now that the plant is moving forward again, Nowak says it will expedite the demolition and removal of obsolete parts of the facility.
"We want the community there to get the right message from us," he said. "We've got a good future."