A $2 billion investment by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV into the development and production of its next-generation minivan will mean the largest retooling for the Windsor Assembly Plant since the 1980s.
The investment includes more than 860 new robots, 800 feet of flexible production lines and retooling of about 80 percent of its general assembly area.
“This rivals one of the largest changeovers that Windsor has experienced,” said Jon Desjardins, Windsor Assembly general assembly center manager, during a media event Monday at the 4.4 million-square-foot plant.
The significant retooling also means temporarily layoffs for most of the plant’s more than 4,570 hourly workers during a 14-week shutdown period that starts Saturday and continues through late May. Workers will get paid a percentage of their wages.
Several hundred skilled-trades workers will continue working with contractors through the shutdown period, officials said.
Exterior construction at the plant started late last year using a 600-ton crane to start installing 200 pieces of structural steel to create a new conveyor enclosure on the plant’s roof.
Little is known about the next-generation Chrysler-branded minivan, which will replace the brand’s current Chrysler Town & Country as well as the Dodge Grand Caravan.
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, during a news conference at the 2015 North American International Auto Show, said the next-generation minivan will likely incorporate the name Town & Country, at least as a trim level. He said the next-generation minivan is anticipated to be unveiled at the 2016 Detroit auto show.
Michael Brieda, Windsor Assembly plant manager, said production of pilot vehicles of the next-generation minivan are expected to begin in mid-2015. The plant will continue to produce the current minivans into 2016, he said.
“The company will build as many as we can, as long as it’s viable,” he said about production of current models.
Brieda said the plant has been running 24 hours, six days a week since mid-2014 in an attempt to keep supply of the minivans up during the shutdown period. The plant produces 1,490 minivans a day.
It takes 26 hours for one car to run through the entire plant. Fiat Chrysler would not comment on if that time will change with production of the next-generation minivan.
In 2014, the plant produced 196,782 Grand Caravans and 160,116 Town & Country minivans.