New Ram pickup slated for Sterling Heights in early ’18
Windsor, Ontario — The next-generation Ram 1500 pickup is slated to start rolling down the line at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant around the first quarter of 2018, with production of the Chrysler 200 ending late this year or early 2017.
Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, speaking after an employee celebration at the Windsor Assembly Plant for the launch of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, provided the timetable about a week after confirming the pickup would move to Sterling Heights from Warren Truck Assembly.
Marchionne said the new pickup will go on sale by January 2018. He said Warren would continue to build the current Ram 1500 for a period of time before it would “embrace the new architecture for the Grand Cherokee and the Grand Wagoneer.”
Marchionne last week said Warren would become “an alternative site to expand production of Jeep products,” mentioning the Jeep Grand Wagoneer and Jeep Wagoneer but nothing about the Grand Cherokee or its architecture. The large SUV is currently produced at a plant in Detroit.
He said Sterling Heights Assembly would “be down for less than two years” to retool for the new pickup. He did not provide a timetable for Warren’s expected retooling.
The company employs more than 9,500 at the assembly plants in Sterling Heights and Warren as well as supporting stamping plants.
The move is a welcomed change for the more than 3,000 workers who produce the Chrysler 200 in Sterling Heights. Due to poor sales, employees have been on temporary layoffs for much of this year, with a shift of about 1,300 scheduled for indefinite layoffs beginning July 5.
Production ran for two weeks in April after being down for nine weeks, but employees are now on a three-week layoff until May 16, according to UAW Local 1700 President Charles Bell.
Bell, who represents the facility’s workers, is glad his facility is getting the pickup but was surprised by the amount of time it would have to be shuttered for retooling.
“We thought the days of retooling and being down for six or seven months were over with,” he said. “None of us thought we would be down two years, even a year.”
Marchionne had no announcements to make about the future of Chrysler 200 production: “I think it’ll be the end of 200 as we understand it today out of that plant,” he said. “...We’re looking for a way to share the architecture with others. Somebody else will make the 200.”
Chrysler 200 sales through the first four months of the year in the U.S. were down 62.4 percent compared to the same time period in 2014. Fewer than 8,000 sold in April.
In January, Marchionne said the carmaker planned to stop making the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 small cars because of a “permanent shift” in buyer tastes toward pickups and SUVs.
The future of the Brampton Assembly Plant in Ontario, which builds the company’s large cars including the Chrysler 300, has not been addressed.
Marchionne said continued production of the 300 is part of the company’s plans. He said the Windsor plant is capable of building the large sedan, but he gave no commitment to shift production.
The Brampton plant also builds the Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger. It employs about 3,450 on two shifts.
The automaker enters negotiations with Canadian union Unifor later this year. Brampton is expected to be addressed during the talks.
Marchionne only briefly talked about contract talks with Unifor, saying he wants to secure a mutually beneficial agreement for long-term success. Union leadership scolded politicians — not in the audience — for not being more financially supportive of auto investments, including the Windsor plant.
Marchionne on Friday also said Fiat Chrysler would begin making a Jeep in late 2017 at Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois. He did not clarify which Jeep he was referring to. Analysts expect the Jeep Cherokee will move from the Toledo Assembly Complex to Belvidere. Marchionne has said the Cherokee would leave Toledo to allow more Wranglers to be built there, including a new pickup model.
The company employs more than 4,200 in Belvidere.