Pounds: Jeep wranglingWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org
The news that Chrysler is considering moving Jeep Wrangler production out of Toledo sent shock waves of uncertainty through Northwest Ohio, and there are plenty of questions swirling.
Although nothing has been decided, the city is feeling the smack of betrayal, and rightly so. As recently as January, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said Wranglers would never be built anywhere but here.
But at the Paris Motor Show on Oct. 2, Marchionne sang a different tune.
“If the solution is aluminum, then I think, unfortunately, that 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,” he said. “It would be so outrageously expensive that it would be impossible to try and work out of that facility.”
Toledo native Larry Vellequette of Detroit’s Automotive News was the first to break the news. In light of Marchionne’s January statement about keeping Wrangler in Toledo, as well as a previous statement that Chrysler would not build another plant in North America despite the growing demand for Wranglers, Vellequette posed a question.
“The question that I asked him, ‘Given the number of Wranglers you’re selling, which of those promises is going to be broken first?,’ elicited the response,” Vellequette told Toledo Free Press. The response set off a flurry of reactions from all levels of government and the UAW.
“Everything’s up in the air now, but it unleashed quite a can of worms,” Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, a former Jeep worker, told Toledo Free Press. “The reason we’re shocked is because we’ve had commitments from him that ‘We’ll never take the Wrangler out of Toledo.’ He said that to the workforce [and] governmental leaders and we took him at his word. It’s been a positive relationship. The Wrangler is Toledo, and Toledo is Jeep.”
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins came away from a recent meeting with Marchionne with the impression that whether or not Wrangler production leaves Toledo, the city’s jobs are safe. Whether that is true remains to be seen.
Also unclear is whether the land near the current Jeep plant the city is seeking to buy will play any future role in Jeep or Chrysler production in Toledo. Officials are staying mum for now.
Toledo began making Wranglers in 1992. The model was originally produced in Ontario from 1986-92, but Toledo had manufactured its precursor, the CJ, since the mid-20th century. After it returned, Chrysler considered another move, but civic leaders and citizens banded together to keep the brand here, and in 1997 Chrysler revealed plans for a new $1.2 billion facility in North Toledo.
Many Toledoans maintain ties to the plant and a deep pride in the city’s manufacturing history. UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower and Jeep workers past and present have said that no matter what skill or technology is needed to build Wrangler, Toledo can provide it.
Businesses can’t survive on legacy or devotion alone, but Toledo deserves to be part of the conversation. Given Jeep’s history in Toledo, the company owes us that much at least. O
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.