Building the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan in Windsor, Ontario

Built in 1928, the Windsor Assembly Plant, with 4 million square feet of floor space, was the home of the first minivan ever made. All told, ten of the fourteen million Chrysler minivans were made there.

outside Windsor

The plant was modified and retooled recently, following renovations just a few years ago for the launch of the 2009s. Over 1,200 people have been hired in the last two years to prepare for this launch.

skillet line

Inside the Windsor plant

Before we continue, let’s compare the final assembly line, from 1958 to 1991 to 2016 — with the same photographer for each one:

windsor final assembly, 1958

minivan assembly line

And on May 6, 2016 — a spot not on the tour, but graciously allowed by the company:

Chrysler Pacifica line

final assembly 2016

The new state-of-the-art skillet lines were on display; they help to make the plant more flexible. Mr. Marchionne said that the plant would be capable of making the Chrysler 300 successor, and a full size crossover has long been rumored to be built alongside the Pacifica (ironically, since Pacifica was originally the name given to the company’s minivan-based crossover).

windsor skillet line

The skillet line floor is plywood, just as it seems in the photos — a special inch-thick Roseburn SuperPly industrial plywood that is stained, sanded, and clear-coated. An FCA spokesman said the fine-grain pattern minimizes checking and splitting, while a cross-band of veneer inner-plies provides high strenth and stiffness.

wood floor

The floors provide access, via plexiglass compartments, to underfloor equipment for minor adjustments (and presumably maintenance). The covers are placed on the two sections of the skillet that cover electrical components so they are easily visible. All sections are bolted down to the frame, and requires a battery-powered tool to remove fasteners and gain access.

assembly line

After the skillet line (see below), the wood theme continues (we do not know if it is wood or a laminate).

after the skillet line

In some areas, underfloor compartments, shielded by clear plexiglass, are used for lighting when it’s needed (not pictured).

minivan carriers

assembly line turn

The media event

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne spoke at an event on May 6, 2016, to celebrate the minivan launch, along with plant manager Michael Brieda and union representatives. Larry Monkhouse, who was the plant’s photographer for many years, attended the event, as well.

Sergio and Unifor reps

Windsor Assembly is the only vehicle assembly plant still operating in the heart of the city. Mr. Marchionne said, “That [original] vehicle represented an entirely new concept and a historic game changer when it comes to family transportation. You have earned the right to be proud of the leading role you have played in making us the undisputed leader in minivans, a tradition we fully intend to maintain with the new Pacifica.”

speech at the line

sergio marchionneOf the US$2.6 billion spent to develop the Pacifica, US$744 million was used to upgrade the plant, adding a metrics center and vehicle validation area, and upgrading equipment and processes. The Pacifica is being made on the same line as the Dodge Grand Caravan, which will continue in production at least through this year.

Mr. Marchionne said, “What you went through and what you were able to do to prepare to build this new minivan, especially to quickly re-establish the high quality production levels after a three-month shut-down, is an example of the spirit I am talking about.” He added that in winning the first North American silver designation in the World Class Manufacturing quality system, “Windsor Assembly has established a high benchmark for all of our North American manufacturing operations.” (Toledo was the first US plant to receive this designation, awarded in May 2016.) He added a challenge to achieve gold status by 2017, and to rank in the world’s top 25% of facilities in quality, by J.D. Power’s standards.

Media were invited to listen to presentations in the quality control area...

quality control

... and, among other places, the body-in-white area.

body in white

Inside the Pacifica

Did you wonder what was behind the covers? (This won’t be a surprise to competitors, who routinely buy new cars and strip them down).

in production

As you can see, the building is quite large:

building

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