Since taking over as head of the Chrysler Group seven years ago, Sergio Marchionne has changed course any number of times during his time at the helm of the old Chrysler Group.
He has junked plans for an IPO of Chrysler stock; moved to halt production of passenger cars and delayed the roll out of Alfa Romeo’s ambitious product plan.
But one project to which he has remained actively engaged during at the helm of Chrysler and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. has been rebuilding the old Chrysler Group’s industrial plants. The company’s assembly plants in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, have been completely retooled.
Meanwhile plants in Belvidere, Illinois, Toledo, Ohio, and Warren, Michigan, will be re-tooled as part of Marchionne’s plan to boost truck production. The Sterling Heights assembly plant will be re-tooled for a second time, starting later this year to build the next generation Ram Truck.
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The ongoing effort to rebuild FCA’s factories was on display last week when he dedicated two new stamping press lines at the company’s stamping plant in Sterling Heights. In all, FCA spent $166 million on the two lines, which can stamp out steel and aluminum parts. The Sterling Heights plant already makes parts such as aluminum hoods for the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Chrysler Pacifica.
The re-tooled Sterling Heights plant will increase its capacity by 30%. The change will allow the plant to make more parts for the new Jeep Wrangler and allow FCA to in-house work that has been handled by outside suppliers, Marchionne said.
“When we resume the production of Wrangler we will increase the capacity of Wrangler and we need a feeding source” and Sterling Stamping is serving as that source, Marchionne said. “There are still additional investments coming.”
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The last new press at Sterling Stamping was installed in 2000 and Marchionne said the plant’s capacity will “explode” with the addition of more new presses in the future.
FCA said in July 2015 it would invest more than $166 million in three press lines at the Sterling Heights plant while the new contract it signed with the UAW called for an investment of $315 million in the Sterling Height and the Warren Stamping Plant.
The Sterling Heights plant is recognized as the largest stamping facility in the world at nearly 3 million square feet, the three new press lines will increase the plant’s capacity by nearly 75,000 stampings per day or 20 million a year.
It currently processes nearly a half million tons of steel and 14,000 tons of aluminum annually. In addition, 720 robots assemble components prior to shipping the pieces to the company’s assembly plants in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil, FCA officials said.
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The plant operates on an alternative work schedule and employs 2,281 or twice the number it did in 2009. Overall, FCA US has invested over $8.3 billion in its U.S. manufacturing operations to upgrade facilities and increase capacity.