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Chrysler Group Makes the Stretch to Become More Flexible in Toledo

- 21st century technology built into century-old plant - Zero loss of production achieved during Jeep(R) Wrangler Unlimited launch - High quality levels result in pull-ahead of dealer shipments - Chrysler Group continues investment in urban America

TOLEDO, Ohio, May 25 -- Building the 2004 1/2 Jeep(R) Wrangler Unlimited is more complex than simply stretching the wheelbase. Converting the manufacturing facilities -- including the oldest operating automotive plant in the country -- into modern, flexible production facilities stretched the ingenuity of Chrysler Group workers.

The new Wrangler Unlimited offers double the cargo capacity and is 15 inches longer than the original Wrangler. The Toledo (Ohio) South Assembly Plant encompasses the Stickney Avenue Plant, built in 1942, and the Parkway Annex, which began life as a bicycle plant in 1904. Stamping, body and paint facilities are located at Parkway; trim, chassis and final assembly take place at Stickney.

"For many manufacturers, it might be easier and more desirable to start with a clean slate and build a greenfield site," said Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler Group Executive Vice President - Manufacturing. "But Toledo is the home of the Jeep Wrangler and the loyal workforce provided the ingenuity and commitment needed to adopt the latest manufacturing technologies into a century-old manufacturing site."

From Old to New - Adopting Flexible Technologies and Processes

Toledo South Assembly Plant began the conversion to accommodate the longer wheelbase Wrangler in July 2003 during the regularly scheduled plant shutdown to achieve a rolling changeover. A rolling changeover enables a plant to continue existing vehicle production while adapting equipment and manufacturing processes for a new vehicle launch.

Another key enabler for the smooth changeover was the early introduction of flexible manufacturing principles at Toledo South. In 1998, the plant became the company's "guinea pig" by developing small teams, which later became standard operating procedure at Toledo (Ohio) North Assembly Plant, where the Jeep Liberty is built.

"Team-based operating principles and rolling launches are key to becoming competitive in the marketplace," explained Byron Green, Chrysler Group Vice President of Truck and Activity Vehicle Assembly Operations. "We put a plan in place for the Unlimited launch and we were able to achieve a zero-loss of production during the launch. Plus, the quality level was such that we were able to ship the vehicles to the dealers three weeks ahead of the launch plan. This was one of the best launches in the company's history."

Chrysler Group has been a leader in virtual manufacturing. Virtual tools were critical in finding innovative ways to fit 21st century tooling and robots into a facility with low ceilings, narrow passages and many concrete ceiling supports that are common in older buildings.

Once validated virtually, new robotics, paint systems and communications technology were integrated to make the plant more flexible and efficient, while enabling a quality build process in the body and paint shops. Already this year, facility and process changes have yielded an additional 5,000 vehicles without unscheduled overtime.

Toledo Employees' "Jeep Pride"

Making the leap to a flexible operating environment and meeting Chrysler Group's strict targets for safety, quality, delivery, cost and morale (SQDCM) is a significant challenge for management and the workforce -- even in new facilities.

The plant adopted a small-team working structure and reassigned 38 line workers to team leader positions. Each team is made up of eight employees that rotate jobs during the day. This gives employees the full picture of vehicle assembly and avoids extended repetition of tasks.

Each team is responsible to sign off on a vehicle's quality before the unit moves to the next assembly team. Communication boards on the plant floor are updated daily to give employees the previous day's performance in the areas of SQDCM.

"In Toledo, we call our passion for the product 'Jeep Pride,'" said Alberto Gonzalez, Chrysler Group Plant Manager - Toledo Assembly Complex. "To exemplify this spirit, we planned to honor a 60-year employee, Jerome Wiczynski, on his retirement. But we hit a roadblock because the guy literally won't quit. Jerome epitomizes the type of commitment we all feel for those special vehicles that bear the Jeep badge."

Instead of honoring Wiczynski's retirement at the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited manufacturing program, Chrysler Group executives were happy to change plans and publicly congratulate Wiczynski on his continual effort and dedication. Plant leadership credits this type of employee dedication with easing the transition to a flexible production system.

Investing in America

Chrysler Group has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to invest in existing facilities and provide good-paying jobs in urban environments. By renovating many of its existing facilities, Chrysler Group was a leading corporate investor in urban America during the 1990s. This decade, the company is continuing the trend in cities such as Toledo, St. Louis, Detroit and Warren, Mich. In 2003, Chrysler Group made a total capital investment of $2.4 billion in its U.S. manufacturing facilities.