Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne shed some sunlight on the automaker’s aggressive plans to revamp its North American production footprint over the next 18 months to make more Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups and fewer cars.
Marchionne said today the retooling of FCA’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit to build the next-generation Ram 1500 pickup would begin at the end of this year or the beginning of 2017.
The plant currently makes the unibody Chrysler 200 sedan, so must be completely retooled to accept the next-generation body-on-frame Ram 1500 pickup, due to debut in early 2018.
The CEO said that FCA is still looking for another automaker to build the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart sedans. The Dart is being outsourced to allow its factory, Belvidere Assembly in Illinois, to produce the Jeep Cherokee starting in late 2017, Marchionne said.
“I’ve been public about the fact that we’re looking for a way to share the architecture with others. Somebody else will make the 200 [and Dart] for us,” he said.
Marchionne also revealed that FCA’s Warren Truck Assembly, about 10 miles south of Sterling Heights Assembly, will continue to build the current-generation Ram 1500s “for probably a period of time until we switch over [at Sterling Heights], and then it will embrace the new architecture for the [next-generation Jeep] Grand Cherokee and the [Jeep] Grand Wagoneer.”
As for the automaker’s Toledo Assembly Complex, which is losing the Cherokee to build the next-generation Jeep Wrangler and other Wrangler-based vehicles, Marchionne dismissed concerns over maintaining volumes.
“They’re going to be full. The last thing I would worry about is that. Actually, the conversion is going to utilize both plants going forward,” he said.
Speaking at Windsor Assembly in Canada, Marchionne said he believes the new Chrysler Pacifica will be able to keep the plant’s three shifts busy. The plant also makes the older-style Dodge Grand Caravan, which is scheduled to cease production in 2017.
Asked about a replacement product for Windsor when Grand Caravan ends, Marchionne said: “We have to prioritize our investments as to where we think we need to be. I think it would be incredibly premature to make any other allocations [to Windsor], given the space and two things. One the fact that we’re going to continue to make the Grand Caravan for a period of time, and secondly because I think we have unexploited space with the Pacifica.
“Let’s fill that up, and then we’ll look at this. There is a product that is available that we can make here. We’ll have to wait for the allocation of capital to be in the right cycle for us to get it,” Marchionne said.
He later added that the new minivan architecture underlying the Pacifica at Windsor Assembly is flexible enough to build the next-generation Chrysler 300, which is currently built in Brampton, Ontario.
“It’s capable, but that’s not a commitment,” he said.