Chrysler’s Jefferson Avenue Plants
The original Chalmers plant, built around 1909, was on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. It was used to build Maxwell cars under contract in 1916, as Maxwell needed more space and Chalmers had too much. This plant was home to the top of the Chrysler line (Imperial), the precursor to Plymouth (Maxwell), middle-of-the-road Dodges and DeSotos, trucks (for one year only), the smallest Plymouths and Dodges ever made (Omni/Horizon), and the staple K-cars, running the gamut from wood-bodied pioneers to computer-run front-drive hatchbacks.
Burton Bouwkamp wrote, “The Chrysler plant straddled Jefferson Avenue. The Kercheval body shop was on the north side of the street and the Jefferson engine manufacturing and car assembly plant was on the south side. The bodies came across Jefferson Avenue in an enclosed overhead conveyer. After vehicle assembly and final OK the cars were driven through the ‘header house’ for shipment to dealers.”
The plant was fronted by the noted 1933 Office and Display building designed by Albert Kahn, built in 1933 and once home to the Industrial Engines Division. The area was home to numerous Chrysler plants in the 1930s.
Burton Bouwkamp wrote:
Fronting on Jefferson Avenue was a large showroom where Chrysler Division products were displayed - but not sold because that would have been the ‘factory’ competing with their Detroit dealers. Chrysler sales and division management offices were located above the showroom.
I came to the Chrysler Division Jefferson Plant in 1954. I was the Resident Motor Engineer. I worked for Bob Rodger who had the title of Chief Engineer - Chrysler. We were called "resident engineers" because we were on location and represented Central Engineering (Highland Park) to Chrysler Division Manufacturing, Sales, Service, Advertising, Public Relations, etc. If we couldn't handle the Division's technical need we referred it - and followed up - for answers with Central Engineering.
Chalmers 1909-1916 Maxwell 1916-1925 Chrysler 1924-1978 Chrysler Imperial 1925-1954 Imperial 1954-1958
Dodge 1959-1966 Dodge trucks 1980 K-cars, E-cars 1981-88 Omni/Horizon 1988-90
An example: the first serious problem that I encountered was premature camshaft lobe wear. We were failing camshaft lobes in the first 20 minutes of engine operation. It took several months of 24/7 laboratory work at Central Engineering to solve this problem. We eventually changed tappet material, added a special coating to the tappet face, changed tappet and cam profiles to promote tappet rotation and added an anti-scuff additive (ZDDP) to the break in oil. We solved the problem - which was so serious that it threatened production of the Firedome V8 engine.
Another more mundane example of our activity was to review merchandizing copy for technical accuracy. Also, to review technical service bulletins.
Next door to the Jefferson Plant was a service garage where customers could get their cars serviced by Chrysler personnel.
In 1960 the Corporation went through a major reorganization. Manufacturing was removed from the sales divisions and centralized in a Car and Truck Assembly Group (CATAG) under a corporate manufacturing VP (Fred Glassford). The Jefferson and Kercheval plants became part of CATAG. [General Motors went through a similar reorganization.]
When the Jefferson Avenue facility was closed around 1990, it was one of the oldest running American auto assembly plants, with over eight decades in service.
Jefferson North (1993-?)
The nearby Jefferson Avenue North plant, which has made Grand Cherokees and Commanders ever since, was built as the result of a land deal between Chrysler and the City of Detroit (thanks, Ken Chester Jr., for the correction and additional information).
- Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Commander. In 2006, Jefferson North employed 2,858 people to make the
- Jefferson North was designed as a flex plant, which is why it can make Grand Cherokees and Commanders on the same line.
- The plant has 2.7 million square feet.
- Work on the plant was started in 1992; it went into operation in 1993; it was expanded in 1999. It always made Grand Cherokees and is the only factory ever to produce Jeep Commanders.
- 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee assembly: assembly line/chassis meets body • factory overview • media tour
- The five millionth Jefferson Avenue vehicle was a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee (see it being made).
On August 13, 2008, Tom LaSorda announced that Chrysler will expand and upgrade the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, to produce the next generation Grand Cherokee (which may or may not have a Durango or Aspen sibling). Included in the plan is a 285,000 square foot expansion and a more flexible body shop. The plant will cut waste by using modern lighting and energy management, reducing emissions through decanting technology, and burning paint sludge to produce energy.
(GM, incidentally, is building the world’s largest rooftop solar array in Spain, to produce 15 million kilowatt-hours per year. Toyota covered the walls of its Tsutsumi plant with a photocatalytic paint that breaks down airborne polllutants, providing the cleansing impact of 2,000 poplar trees. Honda has six natural gas cogeneration plants in Japan, using the generators’ exhaust gas to create steam and hot water.)
Thanks to Carolyn Allmacher, the photographer for all but the black and white photo (supplied by Chrysler).