Trucks, Jeeps

2018 Jeep Wrangler, Part 3: Will it stay in Toledo? How?

Bob Sheaves was responsible for 4x4 suspension design at the Jeep/Truck Engineering's PreProgram Engineering Department from the AMC days until 1993.
UPDATE: In August 2015, Jeep announced that it will move Wrangler production to Toledo North, pictured below, pushing Cherokee to another plant. This corresponds with the decision not to use aluminum as the primary body metal.

Allpar’s owner, David Zatz, asked what approach I would take to design a unibody Jeep for 2017 model year — and what Chrysler is likely to do.

This article is based on my engineering evaluation of various public sources, plus private discussions.

Will the plant move from Toledo? and how does aluminum affect production:

The short answer: The additional land purchased next to the Jeep / Toledo South plant (néee Toledo Supplier Park) will provide space for a “clean room body framing and paint shops,” to be tied into the existing plant-releasing space for new processes and parts.

map of Toledo North plant

At Audi, one plant focuses on steel bodies and another handles aluminum bodies and convertibles. The main issue is contamination. Audi went to NASA to learn how to clean up steel cross-contamination, and built a new line that used HEPA air filtration and a dedicated carbon dioxide gas supply for the MIG and TIG weld guns.

Ford, GM, and Chrysler have all had problems in their plants from cross contamination in the body shops when aluminum hoods and trunks are used on steel bodies due to this atmospheric contamination of ferrous dust in the air settling on the aluminum panels before paint. [Chrysler’s first major use of aluminum body panels was in the 1976 Plymouth Feather Duster.]

1997 Jeep Parkway plantSteel dust causes the aluminum to corrode and lift the paint, unless there is meticulous cleaning of the aluminum prior to paint application — in a true clean room attached to the paint shop. Contamination also makes the aluminum welds extremely brittle; and the argon mix shielding gas used in steel assembly causes the misapplication of gas for the aluminum welding processes to “blow holes” in the aluminum weld processes, which in turn trashes the panels and causes a line stop. Aluminum requires pure argon while steel has an argon/carbon-dioxide mix [more].

Sergio Marchionne, even as he talked about the difficulty of using the current plant, also said there would be no job losses in Toledo (the city); and Chrysler has acquired land around the current plant. This will presumably be used to build the aluminum bodies, while the paint shop will need to be upgraded for the cleaner conditions required.

As for running the plant 24 hours a day to build up a stockpile before the changeover: the line techs are worn out now working six days, with two ten-hour shifts per day, and much maintenance of tooling and equipment has been deferred over time they have been running at this rate — over a year. Do you really want to have more injuries to the people and more worn out equipment failing based on the idea that these people are superhuman and the equipment will never fail?

With the new property, they have a chance to build a clean room body and paint ship and tie those lines into the existing lines, without shutting down the plant for more than a week, and providing space to fit in more variant assembly (such as a proper pickup version in addition to current 2 door and 4 door models) without any major issues.

They can run the steel models as the “clean room assembly area” is being built and the conveyor spurs are fabricated to tie into the existing lines.

By having the same body to frame attachment points between the current bodies and new bodies, you can build both on current marriage tooling after paint, which allows a short changeover from steel body to aluminum.

Jeep Wrangler assembly

Automotive News’ Larry Vellequette wrote that Wrangler will most likely stay in Toledo (based on inside sources), vindicating Bob’s predictions.      — ed.

Once this conveyor spurs are tied into the main line, you can then shut down the original framing shop and steel body shop and clean it up for an aluminum variant, which I expect to be a pickup.

One of the other issues is parts sequencing for the builds. With three separate models in two seperate areas, clean room techniques will be needed in both areas, as well as in the parts storage, recieving, and transfer area.

You cannot have the aluminum pieces transported by a forklift through the main plant due to the possibility of contamination prior to assembly and paint; hence, the transport area, storage, and recieving area needs to be self-contained, as is done by Audi in Nekarsulm.


Re-using a plant like Sterling Heights, converted to aluminum, would likely cost around $1.2 billion because you'd need to change over over the plant all at once, stopping production, essentially what Ford is doing with the F-150. It likely could not be staged, as it probably will be in Toledo. Sterling Heights just got a brand new, large body shop, which hopefully was created with this transition in mind; that could shorten the downtime. By then, resins, pioneered in Plymouth concept cars and now increasingly used by Alfa Romeo, may be used instead, if cost and assembly issues are overcome.

Having a separate building simply gets the aluminum body framing and paint out of the main plant to minimize the cost for cleanup. A body framing and paint shop would be added. The existing stations will still be used to continue building the existing cars. Chrysler cannot afford to lose an estimated $1 billion in lost production to shut down the plant entirely to clean it up, retool, and then restart it — a process that will take months. In addition, I expect the cost for strictly the manufacturing portion to be around $600-$750 million, versus $1 billion for a new plant. This figure includes the cost of some extra personnel to deal with the steel-vs-aluminum separation.

Sergio Marchionne on the issue

On January 12, 2015, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said:

... if the economic differences that we’re facing between the alternative production location and Toledo were to go away, then I think we would find no reason not to continue to produce the Wrangler in Toledo. But there are significant differences in the capital costs required by the Toledo location of the car, which is really the fundamental reason. … I think last year we sold 1,017,019 Jeeps. Over half of them were produced by the workforce in Toledo, and they have consistently overperformed. There’s not been a single instance where we have made demands for additional production out of Toledo that went unmet.

They’ve twisted into a pretzel, working holidays, working shutdown periods to try to get us there, and I think this organization owes them a lot... That’s why even in the event that the Wrangler were not to go to Toledo, we would find alternative products for them to produce. ...

But the Wrangler issue is a very painful issue because of the amount of money involved here. The differences are large. And it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s almost impossible. I know it’s impossible for me alone to make it go away. And they’re large. They cannot be ignored.

We’d have to find a solution that somehow alleviates the cost burden of that plant in some fashion going forward, and certainly it cannot – and I can tell you that now – it cannot come out of the rate structure of our people in Toledo. I would never ask for a consession from them on this issue, ever. I think it’s unfair.

So it has to come from other parts of the infrastructure, whether it’s the city or the state. We have to find ways in which we could make up the difference. It may take a long time to make up the difference, but we would have to have the confirmation of the fact that for a long period of time the cost structure of Toledo will be substantially lower than it will be anywhere else.

If it can’t come out of labor and it can’t come out of the car because the car is what it is, then it has to come from the surroundings, whatever that may be, whether it’s the city or state. We’d have to find concessions. We’d have to find the package of economic incentives that would make the issue go away. And I'm not trying to throw the ball into somebody else’s yard here and say “Look, it’s your problem. You need to come up with the answer.” I've been as open as I can possibly be with both the mayor and the governor on this issue, and I'm going to meet them again in hopefully the next 30 days. I’ll make the point known to them.

I think it is important that we recognize that there is a limit to the amount of economic inefficiency that the FCA or Fiat Chrysler can endure. The investment, it’s not a reflection on Toledo; it’s just it’s a consequence of a set of choices that were made a long time ago in production with the Wrangler. There is a supplier part that operates around the plant. There were technical choices that were made in connection with that architecture. The way in which the car is assembled and painted.

And so we’re wearing the results of those choices. To make those choices irrelevant going forward, it’s going to require money, and so we’re really at the end of an economic discussion. We need to make that problem go away. If we can’t, I think we need to look at a world outside of Wrangler, whatever that is. But having said this, I have every intention of turning myself into a pretzel to try to make the problem go away. But as I get older, I get less capable of turning myself into a pretzel. I suffer the pain a lot more than I would’ve when I was 30.

Jeep Scrambler Pickup and 2018 Wrangler Production

I expect the production of the two door JL Wranglers to be around 40,000 units per year, most of these either complete knock-down (CKD) kits for overseas assembly — say, 15,000 of them — or completed vehicles (25,000) for world wide consumption.

For the expected pickups, I expect that to also be about a production of about 40,000, though split differently (7,000 CKDs and 33,000 complete vehicles). The CKD also figures into the African sales, through AAV in Egypt (discussed here). [More discussion of the pickup is coming next week.]

I believe the four-door JL will continue to be the best seller at 170,000 assembled vehicles and 25,000 CKDs. This gives a total assembled vehicle rate of 228,000 assembled vehicles per year.

Related Jeep Wrangler pages

Inside the Wrangler



Variants and related...

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL: suspension aluminum vs steelopen or fixed roof pickup
body engineering
weight, strength, and safetytransmissionsengines

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