The Chrysler group is preparing for a home run -- maybe three.
Industry and union sources say the third shift Chrysler is considering for its Belvidere, Ill., plant would push volume of its three new entry-level vehicles to as high as 400,000 vehicles annually. Last month, Chrysler group COO Tom LaSorda said that if demand warrants, the plant would add a third shift.
That would make Belvidere one of the highest-volume North American assembly plants The highest volume North American factory last year was Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., plant, which built 487,406 vehicles.
The Belvidere plant will be the home of the front-drive 2007 Dodge Caliber hatchback, 2007 Jeep Compass hatchback and 2007 Jeep Patriot sport wagon. Production begins next year. The plant formerly produced the Dodge Neon sedan; production ended last month.
Frank Klegon, executive vice president for product development, said brick and mortar will not be required to reach the 400,000-unit target. Klegon said that with body shop enhancements, "you would need three shifts to reach that" and the automaker will not add a third shift "until you have demand." Klegon told Automotive News last month at the Frankfurt auto show.
Whether the automaker will hit that lofty production target is debatable.
"The small-car market in North America is extremely competitive," said Michael Robinet, vice president for global forecast services at CSM Worldwide, a consulting firm in Farmington Hills, Mich. "For DaimlerChrysler to move into that space and be successful with all three new vehicles will be a tall challenge."