Ohio leaders scramble over hints it may lose Jeep

AP News
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Posted: Oct 06, 2014 5:05 PM
Ohio leaders scramble over hints it may lose Jeep

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's governor and the mayor of the state's fourth-largest city talked with the head of Chrysler over the weekend about the future of the Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler, just days after the automaker indicated production could be moved when a new model comes out.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said last week that reconfiguring and keeping the Wrangler assembly line in Toledo may be too costly if the new design includes an aluminum body.

The suggestion that the Jeep could be made somewhere else within three years is causing anxiety in the city where the vehicles first began rolling off the assembly line during World War II.

The Chrysler assembly plant that produces the Wrangler along with the Cherokee has one of the largest workforces in northwest Ohio, employing more than 4,000.

Marchionne told Automotive News last week at the Paris Car Show that a different vehicle could be built in Toledo if Wrangler production is moved. The automaker still has a commitment to the city and the state, he said.

"I don't have a doubt that there will be zero impact on head count and employment levels and anything else," Marchionne said, who made a pledge last January that the Wrangler would not be built outside of Toledo as long as he was the CEO.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins spoke with Marchionne during a conference call Sunday.

A statement from the mayor's office said no commitments were made, but both sides have agreed to keep talking. Collins and Kasich are hoping to arrange a sit-down meeting soon with Marchionne.

"The purpose of this meeting will be for the city and its partners to better understand the specific challenges facing Chrysler and develop resolutions to overcome those obstacles," said Stacy Weber, the mayor's spokeswoman.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor agrees with the mayor on the importance of keeping Jeep in Toledo.

"One of the biggest reasons for their success to date is because of the world class workforce in Toledo, and that would be an asset that would be very difficult to give up," Nichols said.

Chrysler is considering building the Wrangler with a lightweight aluminum body to meet the federal government's goal of nearly doubling average fuel economy to 45 mpg by 2025.

The assembly plant in Toledo is one of the busiest in North America.

Union leaders have said they felt betrayed by talk that Wrangler production could be moved because of how much the workers and city have given to the plant.

Former owner DaimlerChrysler AG received nearly $300 million in tax breaks to construct the new $1.2 billion plant in 2001. Four years later, union leaders agreed to allow auto parts suppliers to take over work once done by union workers.