Chrysler confirmed today it's investing $500 million into its Toledo North Assembly Plant in Ohio, allowing the facility to prepare itself to build the next-generation Liberty in 2013.
That investment is largely tied to upgrading the existing Toledo North facility, which was opened in 1997 to handle production of the unibody KJ Liberty. Chrysler's investment is hinged largely on expanding the body shop area by 260,000 square feet, and adding a 26,000 square-foot "Metrology Center" tasked with scrutinizing material dimensions to ensure precise vehicle fit and finish.
"This plant has been chosen to build the future Jeep SUV to replace the current Liberty that will be exported to markets all over the world," said Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne at a press conference held within the plant. "This is part of a much larger $1.7 billion investment that will bring a new advanced architecture that will be the basis for the group's next-generation sport utility vehicle beginning in 2013."
Although the confirmation is likely seen by workers as good news, it isn't altogether surprising. During the automaker's massive business plan roll-out held in late 2009, Jeep's product plan schedule hinted at a Liberty replacement to arrive in 2013. Chrysler said little else about the vehicle, although it confirmed the model would ride upon a new Fiat-based platform.
Still unclear is the fate of the Liberty's twin, the Dodge Nitro. Although some executives -- including Marchionne -- saw potential in reinventing the funky SUV in the future, no decision has been made at this point. Dodge's future product plan indicated a new model was "under consideration," but nothing more. Production of the current model ends in December, and given Chrysler's recent push to eliminate duplicate models from its brands (i.e. ending the Chrysler/Dodge minivan clones), we wouldn't be surprised if the Nitro simply slithers quietly into the night.
Toledo North presently employs roughly 1800 workers, but Chrysler plans on adding a second shift of 1000 employees as part of this decision. Work on the plant will begin later this year, and last through much of 2012. The new jobs are expected to come on-line in the third quarter of 2013.