This plant, which is right off Route 90 and Route 20 in Illinois, was Chrysler's only small car production facility in the United States after 1993, which nearly 1 million Neons built at the plant from 1993 to February 1998. Ironically, the Belvidere Assembly Plant had come on-line in 1965 with production of full-sized station Plymouth Fury and Dodge Monaco wagons. In 1969, the plant was making the Fury and full-sized Dodge Polara. At the dawn of 2012, it was making preproduction Dodge Darts, along with Jeep Patriots and Compasses.
The plant was named after the city it was in, with no relation to the Belvedere car, which was reportedly named after the hotel. It made rear wheel drive cars until 1977; after that, it switched to making L-body cars, including the Horizon, Omni, O24, TC3, Charger, Turismo, and Duster. A single year after Chrysler’s cheapest models left the plant, the corporation’s priciest cars moved in: the Imperial, Fifth Avenue, New Yorker, and Dynasty. They were succeeded again by the corporation’s least expensive car, the Neon, which was replaced by the entry-level Caliber, Compass, and Patriot.
When making Omnis and Horizons, the Belvidere plant used Simca engines (designed while under Chrysler ownership); these were built in Poissy, France, tested in Paris, and shipped to Belvidere, where they were “dressed” with a carburetor and accessories and installed in the L-bodies.
Employees from the Belvidere Assembly Plant took part in a 90-day, one-million mile Neon ride-and-drive verification program that began in September 1993. One hundred volunteer assembly workers rotated through 50 cars every day - in two eight-hour shifts - over a variety of road conditions. The goal was to put at least 12,000 miles on most of the cars, up to 36,000 miles on as many as possible and 100,000 miles on at least two of them, and to find what would fail.
In late 1993, Belvidere had 3.3 million square feet of floor space covering 280 acres. The plant began Neon production on November 10, 1993, with numerous manufacturing firsts. 3,250 hourly and 250 salaried employees were on staff, with an average age of 48 years and 23 years average length of service; their combined payroll was $231 million in 1992, when they built 125,000 cars. At the time, 380 robots were used; the plant had built 5.9 million vehicles before starting on the Neon.
Production of the Dodge, Plymouth and internationally-sold Chrysler Neons began in November 1993. The plant employed 3,480 people and produced approximately 1,064 Neons daily. Neons were also made in Toluca, Mexico.
With the Neon, Chrysler’s Belvidere satellite fascia plant was designed and supported by the Davidson division of Textron. Numerous supplier suggestions resulted in savings of millions of dollars in Neon production; these are detailed in our SCORE page.
Before the Neon went into production, a team of manufacturing, engineering,
and procurement people visited key suppliers to make sure they were ready to launch. A materials management work team was set up; they replaced the cardboard boxes originally used to receive parts with reusable plastic containers that were shipped back to suppliers when emptied. Overall, the plant eliminated 95% of the waste materials, reducing environmental impact and saving the plant hundreds of thousands of dollars over time. Parts were also less likely to be damaged in transit.
The “Checkerboard Square” set up at Belvidere let the manufacturing engineers figure out the ergonomics and technical issues surrounding construction of new cars in advance, at a much lower cost than planning it out on computer models, building, and then moving things around as needed. Chrysler can get over manufacturing hurdles before ordering tooling, and before shutting down a factory for changeover to a new model.
In December 1997, a new $45 million Verson Type A+ stamping press began operation at the satellite stamping facility which adjoins the main assembly plant. In summer 1997, a new $45 million Powder Anti-Chip paint system was added.
The Verson Type A+ stamping press was the largest manufactured in the United States. Installing the press, which was the size of 12 locomotives, required an additional 60,000 square feet to the plant at a cost of $10 million. Initially, the new press was used for stamping front and rear Neon doors; it was to be used later for stamping full side-aperatures and fenders for a different model.
The Powder Anti-Chip paint system allowed for improved chip resistance, durability, and overall quality and finish on all vehicles produced at the Belvidere plant. A building addition of 72,000 square feet was required for the $45 million investment that upgraded Belvidere's paint system to state-of-the-art paint technology. This process, coupled with the water-borne base coat system already in place, made Belvidere one of the most environmentally-friendly automobile plants in the nation, at the time. These new paint processes have greatly reduced the VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions and waste by-products associated with earlier paint systems.
Note: production does not equal sales, because of the lag between producing cars and selling them to end users, and because of international sales, chiefly Canada and Mexico.
To reduce its environmental impact, the 2000 Neon used waterborne paint, molded-in color fascias, asbestos-free brakes, and door water shields made from recycled plastic. Pollution prevention was incorporated into Neon's planning process, and included steps such as:
The Rockford Register Star reported in July 2010 that Chrysler has confirmed a 500,000 square foot addition to the Belvidere, Ohio assembly plant, to hold a larger body shop.
The Caliber, Compass, and Patriot are being replaced by new cars engineered by Chrysler, using an altered set of dimensions and architectures created by Fiat. The midsize and compact cars (Dodge Dart) were engineered to be built in the same plant, on the same lines, thanks to certain common dimensions. As a result, Belvidere and possibly other plants - Toledo and possibly Sterling Heights - would all be able to make the same sets of cars, increasing Chrysler's ability to respond quickly to market shifts. If the Dodge Dart became a runaway hit, it could conceivably be made in two or three factories at once, at the same time as other models were made (this could also reduce the need to change colors as frequently - the company could make Belvidere the "red and white" plant for all models, Toledo the "red and black" plant, etc., saving money on paint and washes and reducing the environmental impact.)
Chrysler announced today that it would add about 1,800 jobs at its Belvidere Assembly Plant, including a third crew and hundreds of jobs for production of the Dodge Dart.
In addition to the jobs announcement, Marchionne acknowledged that the previously announced $600 million investment in a new 638,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art body shop had grown to nearly $700 million. The investment also included the installation of new machinery, tooling and material handling equipment exclusively for the production of the Dart.
Also see: Making the Patriot, Caliber, and Compass at Belvidere and
Making the Dodge Dart at Belvidere
Also see... Factory photos: 2009 Dodge Ram - 1995 Neon - Chrysler LeBaron Convertible - Newark Assembly Plant
Working at the plant: Dave Tyjeski (2009), Bill Wetherholt (2009), Matt Wetherholt (2009), Views (2002), Teamwork (1998)
Techs and Workers
Building VipersFrom start to finish: Conner Avenue plant tour, 2015
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