Mike Manley: 'Paving the way' for Detroit's next assembly plant

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

When Mike Manley became Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO in 2018 ahead of Sergio Marchionne's sudden death, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan hadn't met the British businessman just as Jeep needed to grow its capacity.

The east side’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant “was running around the clock making Grand Cherokees and doing so phenomenally, so there was no time to update the plant," Duggan said. "I was afraid FCA would build the new plant somewhere else.”

Fast forward: Fiat Chrysler soon will launch production in early 2021 at the city's first new assembly plant in nearly 30 years. The $2.5 billion investment will update Jefferson North and has expanded the adjacent Mack Avenue Engine Complex for building the next-generation Grand Cherokees and a new, unnamed full-size, three-row Jeep as well as their electrified variants.

The investments will create 4,950 middle-class jobs. The Italian American automaker already has hired 4,00 Detroiters, who had the first opportunity to apply — an agreement that has led to similar commitments from other employers.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Mike Manley speaks to media in the FCA exhibiti space at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday, January 14, 2019.  (John T. Greilick, The Detroit News)

“One of the things we believe in as a very large global organization is the places where we invest in, where we have big facilities, that we should be in that community, and we should look like that community,” Manley told The Detroit News. “We want to be able to provide great employment for people in that community.”

To do that in Detroit, however, was perhaps not the easiest path forward. FCA needed 215 acres of land, to close a road and to demolish an old DTE Energy Co. plant.

Manley opened the doors to Duggan, inviting him to Auburn Hills to get an understanding of the production process and how the new plant and Jefferson North could work together.

“Without that, we never would have won this,” the mayor said. “He trusted me really from the beginning with a lot of sensitive information and allowed us to do what we did.”

The city agreed to acquire the needed parcels of property, and hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local incentives were secured.

“It’s a community we believe in, has a fantastic workforce and work ethic — we’ve seen that in our plants,” Manley said. “It has a governor in the state that is very, very progressive in terms of continuing to invest and develop in manufacturing within our industry, and has a mayor who is very determined to continue the resurgence of Detroit. We feel that we certainly need to be part of that. ... It’s a huge investment, but it’s one we are comfortable with because of the experience that we’ve had.”

FCA partnered with Detroit At Work to hold 1,100 job fairs that screened 16,245 Detroiters for the career opportunity. More than 10,300 completed an application, and FCA invited 5,500 for interviews. Detroiters will have the first chance at future jobs, too.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley will be head of the Americas in the new Stellantis NV set to merge in the first quarter of next year.

Others have followed. Auto supplier Dakkota Integrated Systems at the vacant Kettering High School is offering its 625 jobs to Detroiters first, and now Amazon.com Inc. wants to build a fulfillment center at the old Michigan State Fairgrounds.

“Mike Manley paved the way for Amazon and 1,200 jobs,” Duggan said. “It no doubt changed Amazon’s perception of Detroit. The fact that we got that done, there are a number of major national players looking to come here.”

Michael Manley

Age: 54

Occupation: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO

Education: Manley holds a Master of Business Administration from Ashridge Management College in Ashridge, England, and a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Southbank University in London, England.

Family: He is engaged and has five children.

Why honored: Manley has guided the Italian American automaker to stability following the death of its former leader, Sergio Marchionne, and stands out for committing the company to build the first new assembly plant in Detroit in nearly three decades.


Twitter: @BreanaCNoble