Chrysler’s Jefferson Avenue Plants

1991 assembly plant at Jefferson North (Jeep)

Making Grand Cherokees at Jefferson North, 2010
The 5,000,000th JNAP Vehicle

The original Jefferson Avenue (Detroit) plant was built by Chalmers in 1907. Falling on hard times, Chalmers built cars for Maxwell (the future Chrysler) under contract starting in 1916. The new Chrysler Corporation (a shell company) absorbed both Maxwell and Chalmers in 1925, and the plant continued to make Maxwells, moving on to Imperials, Dodges, DeSotos, trucks (for one year only), the smallest Plymouths and Dodges ever made (Omni/Horizon), and the K and E cars.

building location

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 above the showroom.

Chrysler Jefferson Assembly PlantNext door was a garage where customers could get their cars serviced by Chrysler personnel.

I came to the Jefferson plant in 1954 as the Resident Motor Engineer. I worked for Bob Rodger, who was the Chief Engineer for 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
  Imperial

1925-1958
1961-1975

  DeSoto 1933-1936
1968-1960
  Dodge 1959-1966
  Dodge trucks 1980
  K and E cars 1981-88
  Omni/Horizon 1988-90

 

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; 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. The problem was so serious that it threatened production of the Firedome V8 engine.

A more mundane activity was to review merchandising copy and technical service bulletins for technical accuracy.

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; the plant had made 8,310,107 cars and trucks.

Jefferson North (1993-present)

Jefferson Avenue North

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).

jefferson avenue north

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. Included in the plan was a 285,000 square foot expansion for a more flexible body shop, modern lighting and energy management, decanting technology to cut emissions, and burning paint sludge to produce energy.

Jefferson Avenue factory

In May 2010, having finished the new body shop and other upgrades, Jefferson North launched the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee; it was followed in November by the 2011 Dodge Durango. The three million square foot plant, hailed as one of the last in an urban setting, had been changed quiet a bit to build Durangos, which were ten inches longer than Grand Cherokees; each workstation had to be lengthened by one foot, and since there was not enough space to extend the assembly line, the team compressed some stations and “worked on process efficiencies” to make it fit.

jeep  factory

The plant also started using automatic vehicle identification to track each model; the line automatically stopped if the wrong parts were loaded. Robots had to be altered, with the seat installation tool gaining a third installation arm and a new robot added to seal the Durango rear window and drill holes into the roof (for the roofrack). Even the “shaker,” used to find buzzes, squeaks, and rattles, had to be changed.

A new body shop was more flexible, to accommodate the Durango; the old body shop is now used as a metrics center, to test cars’ dimensions for quality assurance.

rail cars behind jeep factory

Thanks to Carolyn Allmacher, the photographer for most photos on this page.

Making Grand Cherokees at Jefferson North, 2010

chrysler-imperial pocket protector

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