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Auto blogFri, 15 Mar 2013 15:43:00 EST
Chrysler is betting that the Jeep Wrangler will continue its strong sales surge as it continues to push the legendary brand out across the globe. The Auburn Hills automaker is reportedly adding 200 workers at the Toledo, Ohio plant that builds the Wrangler. What's more, those new hires will be at their posts quickly - they'll be on the job by April 1. Of those 200 workers, 130 employees will be there to relieve those who need breaks.
Why do they need so many relief workers? The Toledo Jeep Complex is currently working at a torrid pace with two ten-hour shifts. A third shift has been ruled out for the moment because of a production botttleneck - the plant's paint shop is already maxed out. According to Reuters, Wrangler production in 2012 cleared 200,000 units, and US sales were up by 16 percent.
Another part of the Toledo plant is presently down as Chrysler retools the line to build Jeep's divisively styled Liberty replacement, the Cherokee (seen in our gallery below). Production for the new model is scheduled to begin toward the end of May.
The Jeep Wrangler may be a timeless design, but sooner or later, time will run out and Chrysler will have to replace it with a newer model more friendly towards the earth it's designed to traverse. That will, it seems, mean a shift to aluminum construction (whether just for the body or for the entire structure) - but what will that mean for the Wrangler's long-time home of Toledo, OH?
According to the latest pronouncements from Fiat Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne, the shift to an aluminum Wrangler would likely mean moving production out of Toledo. "If the solution is aluminum," Marchionne told Automotive News, "then I think unfortunately Toledo is the wrong place, the wrong setup to try and build a Wrangler, because it requires a complete reconfiguring of the assets that would be cost-prohibitive."
Marchionne also indicated that, were Wrangler production to move elsewhere, it would find another line to take its place in Ohio. "One of the thing that we are dealing with now is what else we do with Toledo that fulfills our commitment to the city and to Ohio. I don't have a doubt that there will be zero impact on head count and employment levels and anything else." Jeep has built the Wrangler in Toledo since World War II, with the exception of six years starting in 1986 when it was built in Brampton, Ontario. The complex dates back to 1910 and currently produces the Wrangler and Cherokee. Past products have included the Wagoneer and Commanche as well as the Dodge Dakota and Nitro.
Now that the Liberty has left us for greener pastures, it's time to start looking into the future of the midsize Jeep model. The next all-new vehicle for the off-road brand will be the SUV you see here, effectively replacing the Liberty, and not necessarily carrying on with that name.
From the sides, the prototype you see here sort of looks like a miniature version of the handsome Grand Cherokee, albeit with a bit more in the way of body sculpting. Up front, the seven-slat grille will be front and center, with completely revised headlamp designs that are reportedly angular and sweep well into the front fenders (you can sort of see what we're talking about in the side profile). That doesn't sound very Jeep-like, but we'll reserve judgment until we, you know, see the thing.
The bigger question with the Liberty replacement will be whether or not its off-road chops will be up to snuff. After all, the two previous generations of Liberty models were body-on-frame traditional SUVs, whereas this new Jeep rides on a larger version of the Dodge Dart platform.