DETROIT -- Chrysler Group plans to invest $165 million to build a new 1 million-square-foot body shop at its assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Mich.
The body shop will begin producing Chrysler's next generation of mid-size sedans in 2013, said Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson. The plant currently builds Chrysler's two mid-size sedans: the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger.
The announcement marks the second major investment in the Sterling Heights plant. This follows an announcement in December 2010 that the company would spend nearly $850 million to build a new paint shop for the plant. Chrysler Group has now invested nearly $3.5 billion in its U.S. plants since June 2009.
To some Chrysler employees, the Sterling Heights factory has come to symbolize the company's comeback story. Before Chrysler's 2009 bankruptcy, previous owners Cerberus Capital Management had decided to close the Sterling Heights plant. But Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne changed course and decided to keep it open.
"Today marks another milestone in the rags-to-riches story of the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant," Scott Garberding, Chrysler senior vice president of manufacturing, said in a prepared statement.
"A plant that was slated to close nearly two years ago will now be a state-of-the-art facility that will play an integral role in the success of this company by building the next generation of all-new vehicles."
The vehicles will be built on a Fiat front-drive platform adapted for the U.S. market.
The investment includes the construction of the new body shop as well as the installation of equipment and conveyors that will be some of the most advanced in the industry.
Tinson said the new body shop would replace the factory's current body shop, which will be "repurposed" for another use. There will be no net gain in terms of jobs, she said. Sterling Heights now employs 2,524 workers on two shifts.
The plant investment was not mentioned specifically in the automaker's recent tentative contract with the UAW – which the rank-and-file is in the process of ratifying.
It was not immediately clear if the project was grouped in with $1.3 billion in "additional investment" in various U.S. plants as outlined in the tentative contract.
General Holiefield, vice president of the UAW/Chrysler Department, praised today's news in a statement, saying the project "recognizes the commitment and dedication of this highly skilled workforce."