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FCA Sterling Stamping plant adds Jeep Wrangler work

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Sterling Heights – — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne said Friday the Sterling Stamping Plant will make all the stamped parts for the next-generation Jeep Wrangler, bringing work in-house for the popular vehicle.

UAW worker Ashley Bailey, of Eastpointe, puts a Durango B-Pillar off a conveyor belt and puts it onto a shipping rack after it is stamped by one of the new presses.

Marchionne, on hand for a media event celebrating the launch of three stamping presses at the plant, said the work is possible with the new presses. He said more work and investment will be headed to the plant.

“There’s some presses in here that are older than him,” Marchionne told reporters, referring to plant manager Lance Schwartz. “We need to yank them out of here.”

UAW vice president Norwood Jewell told workers: “The future is as bright as it’s ever been for you .”

FCA didn’t identify the supplier doing the Wrangler work, and a schedule for the transition wasn’t made available.

The company announced in July 2015 it would invest more than $166 million in three press lines at the plant to help meet increased demand. The new presses will boost annual production capacity at the plant by 30 percent.

In its latest contract with the automaker, the UAW earmarked a potential investment of $315 million between Sterling Stamping and the Warren Stamping Plant.

FCA chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne addresses workers as plant manager Lance Schwartz, center, and Norwood Jewell listen.

In other comments to reporters:

■Marchionne said that several companies have approached Fiat Chrysler about acquiring Magneti Marelli, a subsidiary parts business. He didn’t comment about whether FCA is in talks with Samsung Electronics Co.

Press reports said the tech company was interested in buying some or all of the company.

■He also said the company continues to work with authorities about questions over FCA’s sales reporting. Last month, the company confirmed that it was cooperating with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and inquiries from the Department of Justice.

“We inherited the reporting system that goes back to 1980,” he said. “And we just kept applying the same reporting system that existed ... for nearly 40 years.”

The federal investigations likely stem from a lawsuit filed by two Fiat Chrysler dealerships owned by Illinois-based Napleton Automotive Group. The dealers filed a civil racketeering suit against the automaker in January, alleging the company offered dealers money to report unsold vehicles as sold. That complaint was amended in March to include additional Napleton-owned dealerships and to add other details, according to court records.

Marchionne on Friday declined to comment on allegations made in the Illinois suit.

■In comments about the Warren Truck Assembly Plant, Marchionne said the company continues to look for ways to “utilize Warren in a significant way. That’s a very old plant and needs significant investment.”

FCA is moving Ram production from Warren to the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, where production of the Chrysler 200 is slated to end in December.

■Machionne said the Jeep Grand Wagoneer is still “earmarked” as part the company’s production plans, but he wouldn’t say where he would build it. He did not affirm, as he has in the past, that the vehicle would go to Warren.

■Marchionne also said that the company continues to look for a partner for its car production. Marchionne has stated in the past that it would end car production in the U.S. and focus on Jeep and Ram. He indicated FCA staff was actively working on the partnership issue.

At Sterling Stamping, the three new presses will boost the number of stampings produced daily by 75,000 per day or 20 million per year. Total stampings will now total about 82 million per year.

The plant employs 2,281 employees and no new jobs were created through the investment. The facility makes body panels and assemblies for vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram pickup.

Sterling Stamping opened 51 years ago and FCA says it’s the largest stamping plant in the world at nearly 3 million square feet.

Schwartz said the new presses “open up new opportunities for this plant.” He said with Ram production moving to Sterling Heights Assembly, it will gain a larger part of production for Ram components.

He recalled when Fiat Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, a very uncertain time for the facility.

“We powered down every piece of equipment,” he said. “That was a very frightening time for me and everyone else in this plant.”

The plant’s workforce has nearly doubled since July 2009 and now 800 semi-trucks travel in and out of the facility daily, and three rail shipments go to Mexico each day to provide parts for the Ram pickup.

FCA has invested more than $8 billion in U.S. facilities since 2009, adding more than 25,000 jobs in the U.S.