Building 1980s-1990s Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth minivans in Windsor, Ontario

minivan welding

immersionBuilt in 1920, the Windsor Assembly Plant is the largest Chrysler assembly plant, with 4 million square feet of floor space.

“Plant 3” started out as part of a complex dating back to 1916, with Chalmers and Maxwell. After buying Dodge Brothers, the relatively new Chrysler Canada (created in 1925 from Maxwell-Chalmers’ Canadian operations) moved the Dodge Brothers’s operations from Toronto to Windsor.

The extra volume meant building a new factory on Tecumseh Road in South Walkerville, which built all Chrysler brands — Dodge Brothers, DeSoto, Plymouth, and Chrysler. It made 20,010 cars in its first year, which gave Chrysler a larger market share in Canada than in the United States (a trend which would continue).

They kept making all brands until the 1965 Auto Pact made it unnecessary.


Before making minivans, Windsor was home to the Chrysler Cordoba and the upscale Dodge Charger SE. Larry Monkhouse wrote, “Canada got the nod specifically because head office knew full well that Canadian-built cars were of higher quality than those built in American plants. It was no secret that folks working in upper management positions in the US routinely ordered Canadian-made vehicles for personal use.” For that reason, they also got the upscale 1981-83 Imperial, Diplomat, and Gran Fury before being turned over to a key project — the radical new minivans.

minivan assembly line

Ten days after the last 1983 car was made, the building was “stripped to the bare walls” and retooled, taking just 16 weeks and US$400 million to be converted to minivan production. Chrysler claimed it was one of the most modern, advanced factories in North America and one of the best in the world, with over 125 robots. 112 of those robots did 97% of each minivan’s 3,800 welds, monitored by computer for weld quality and position. Robots also applied sealers and handled materials.


The plant also included automated full-immersion cleaning and primer application, the industry’s first robotic painting of body interiors, and automated headlight and front end alignment.

computerized checking of the car

The ten mile Windsor line was computer monitored with 44 video camera placements for supervisors. (The following photo appears to be the computer control center for the plant but might have been Chrysler’s new Control Data supercomputer.)

windsor computer center

In 1991, the Windsor plant — management and union members alike — applied for, and won, the Canadian Award for Business Excellence, in the quality category. Manager Adrian Vido wrote, in a 1993 article for CMA Magazine, that they used the basic plan-do-check-act system for the change, foregoing more complex models. Adrian, who was promoted to plant manager but jumped to Ford in 2000 (after Daimler started cracking down), credited the Quality Improvement Process (QIP) and the customer-supplier relationship as major contributors to the process:

Everyone in our plant is encouraged to know who their customers are, both internally...and externally... [and] to understand our customer requirements and to measure performance against those requirements. Our emphasis on what the customer needs continually drives us to new levels.

1991 body drop

Changes cited by Adrian Vido in CMA:

  • Customer satisfaction increased by 38%
  • Number of warranty claims cut by 30%; warranty costs cut by 25% per car
  • Scrap costs cut by $2 per minivan; 32 million pounds of waste eliminated
  • Injuries reduced by 18%; grievances reduced by 55%

Part of the QIP process was the “error cause removal” process, which allowed a bypass for problems that could not be resolved through normal means. The process required a 24 hour response to any complaint; anyone could initiate a complaint. When the form was filed, someone was immediately assigned to start resolving the problem through corrective action teams; a committee met every other week to review open problems. The employee is the only person who can end the process.


Every manager and over half the union members were trained in QIP by 1993, with a goal of training everyone; the training was done by CAW-chosen hourly workers.

A core team, headed by a CAW member and including 24 people who could be sent out to each division in sub-teams, helped communication between line workers, supervisors, suppliers, and engineers. Having the team in place eliminated more than enough waste to pay for its $1.6 million annual cost.

assembly line

Daily “working together meetings” were held at different divisions; in attendance were senior managers, area managers, the core team, engineering reps, union representatives, line workers, and the area supervisor. Each meeting started with a success story, to boost morale; then the group did a walk-through of the supervisor’s area, with the supervisor noting their requirements along several key categories.

testing the body

There were also daily operational meetings for both shifts, which included reviews of key outcomes (e.g. dimensional integrity and body tolerances), staff issues, quality, cost, processes, etc.; these were held on the line to increase involvement.

paint shop

Adrian credited changes in the dress code for some of the success of the effort. In order for the changes to work, barriers between managers and line workers had to change. One of their first decisions was to relax the dress code, having managers and supervisors forgo suits and ties, a clearly visible difference. Other keys to success were:

  • Managers listening and responding to line workers with empathy
  • Managers asking for help in problem solving (without giving up their own responsibilities)
  • Managing with facts — understanding and using appropriate measures and data, benchmarking
  • Sharing the “big picture” through daily production letters, manpower planning, town hall meetings, and goals posted throughout the plant, in the CAW newspaper and posting boards, and the core team’s newsletter.

turkey farm

engine bay

body fix

checking paint

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