Fiat Chrysler plants in Windsor and Belvidere will idle for two weeks amid slow sales
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's assembly plants in Windsor and Belvidere, Illinois, will idle for two weeks this month following a year of declining sales for the minivans and SUVs built in those plants.
Windsor Assembly, which produces Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans, will be down for the weeks of Jan. 13 and Jan. 20, the company confirmed after a notice was posted Wednesday on the Facebook page of Unifor Local 444, the union representing auto workers in Canada.
Belvidere Assembly, which produces the Jeep Cherokee SUVs, will be down the same weeks "to align production with demand," the automaker said in a statement.
Normal production at both plants is expected to resume the week of Jan. 27.
The company's minivan business was down for 2019, though Pacifica sales were up 3% in the fourth quarter year-over-year. A partnership between Fiat Chrysler and self-driving technology company AutoX was announced this week. The automaker is providing Pacifica minivans as part of the 100-vehicle autonomous fleet AutoX will deploy in China early this year.
The third shift at Windsor is expected to be cut in March after receiving several extensions. The change would affect approximately 1,500 employees at the plant that employs more than 5,700 hourly and nearly 300 salaried workers.
Sales of the Cherokee in the United States were down 30% year-over-year in the last three months of 2019 and fell 20% for the full year.
"That's not something to be unexpected," Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Cox Automotive Inc., said of the shutdown. "The Cherokee has been out for a while in its current form. I think Jeep potentially is suffering, and this is not necessarily a terrible thing, from having so many models."
The Cherokee was last redesigned for the 2014 model year. A union summary of the automaker's new agreement with the United Auto Workers suggests the Cherokee will receive new safety features in 2020 and Belvidere will see $55 million in investments over the next four years. The company has 3,667 hourly and 304 salaried employees on two shifts at its assembly and stamping plants there.
The Cherokee is a smaller, less-pricey Jeep, so the brief shutdown there is "probably the best one" compared to other Jeep nameplates, Brauer said. And although the compact market remains strong, more players have been introduced.
"That is a hot segment; one could argue it should still be doing well," he said. "Five years ago, I'd always like to say that if you can make an SUV shape, it didn't matter what it was, you could sell it. The market was much hungrier. Overall sales are just barely holding steady and contracting. A couple of players have to take a pause on their production."
Overall vehicle sales in the U.S. fell 1.6% to 17.1 million units in 2019, according to auto information website Edmunds.com Inc.
Fiat Chrysler also plans to "take a few down days" at Saltillo Truck Assembly and Toluca Car Assembly plants in Mexico this month, Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said in an email. Saltillo produces the Ram Classic and heavy-duty pickups, and Toluca makes Dodge Journey and Jeep Compass SUVs.