UAW official confident Toledo will keep Jeep Wrangler

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower expects Toledo will retain production of the next-generation Jeep Wrangler.

Baumhower, whose local represents workers at Toledo Assembly Complex, home of the Wrangler, said Toledo and Ohio officials have presented “a very attractive package that answers all of (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne’s) concerns.” He believes that will lead the company to keep production of the Wrangler in Toledo.

“I think the proactive approach that we’ve taken over on the shop floor and in our local government, I think it’s going to work out for us,” he told reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of the UAW Special Convention in Detroit.

Speculation about where the next-generation Wrangler will be produced has been ongoing since October, when Marchionne said significant enhancements to the next-generation Wrangler — including a possible aluminum body — would likely lead to production leaving its home in Toledo, where the first World War II Jeeps were made.

Since then, public officials in Ohio have been scrambling to put together a plan to persuade Marchionne to keep production of the iconic SUV in Toledo. They recently provided Fiat Chrysler an incentive and development package lobbying to keep Wrangler production in the city. Exact details of the plan have not been released, but involves more than 100 acres of land adjacent to the Toledo Assembly Complex that officials have purchased. It’s speculated that Fiat Chrysler could expand its current plant or build a new one to increase Wrangler production.

Baumhower said he expects the company to announce a decision within weeks in order to hit the scheduled launch of the next-gen Wrangler in 2017.

“I think our members have put us in a very, very good position,” he said.

UAW members as well as businesses and others in the city of Toledo have rallied to keep Wrangler production, even though Marchionne has said the facility would receive a replacement vehicle.

“It’s a certain pride,” said UAW Local 12 delegate Samantha Price, who works on Wrangler assembly. “We tell people we work at Jeep, we don’t say we work for Fiat or Chrysler. Everybody knows Jeep in Toledo, and all around the world, really.”

Price also commended Baumhower for his leadership in attempting to keep the Jeep Wrangler in Toledo: “Bruce Baumhower has really put up a big fight for us. He has really done an excellent job, and hopefully all of his efforts pay off.”

Fiat Chrysler declined to comment as to when a decision on production could come. It has also continued to not comment on the city’s land purchase.

Officials with Ohio and Toledo could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Baumhower’s comments come less than a week after Jeep CEO and President Mike Manley said there was no set date for the company to decide if production of the next-generation Wrangler would stay in Toledo.

Toledo Assembly Complex can currently produce about 240,000 Wranglers a year, significantly lower than the 350,000 that some have speculated production could be.

The Wrangler is an extremely profitable and popular vehicle for Jeep, and the launch of the next-generation Wrangler is crucial to the company’s success.

In 2014, Jeep marked its third consecutive year of record global sales by selling more than 1 million vehicles for the first time in the brand's history. Wranglers accounted for 23 percent of sales.

“It’s critical to get the launch right,” said IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley. “They generate so much profit from that vehicle.”

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