PARIS -- Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, dropped a bomb at the Paris auto show last week, and it landed 4,000 miles west on Toledo, Ohio.
Marchionne said that his company is strongly considering massive changes to the next-generation Jeep Wrangler -- unibody construction, an aluminum body and smaller, turbocharged engines.
And these changes would mean that the SUV likely will be assembled outside its home in Toledo, he said. He stressed that no jobs would be lost, without indicating what might replace the 223,000 Wranglers produced annually at the plant.
Although Marchionne said the Wrangler changes are under consideration, a company source with direct knowledge said the decision to build an aluminum-body Wrangler already has been made.
Marchionne said the Wrangler's current body-on-frame plant could only assemble a unibody vehicle with an expensive overhaul. And refitting the plant would be too expensive, Marchionne said.
"If the solution is aluminum, then I think, unfortunately, that Toledo is the wrong place, the wrong setup to try and build a Wrangler because it requires a complete reconfiguring of the assets that would be cost-prohibitive," he said. "It would be so outrageously expensive that it would be impossible to try and work out of that facility."
Instead, he suggested that the next-generation Wrangler might be built in Belvidere, Ill., or Sterling Heights, Mich., both unibody plants with available manufacturing capacity.
Marchionne's views contradicted a statement he made in January. At the Detroit auto show, he vowed "never to produce a Wrangler outside of Toledo. So whatever Wranglers are going to be made are going to be made there as long as I'm the CEO. They'll not be built anywhere else."