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Chrysler’s Mack Avenue Engine Plants (formerly stamping plant)

Mack Avenue engine plant

The two Mack Avenue engine plants, named Mack Avenue I and II, are at 4000 and 4500 St. Jean Avenue in Detroit. In 2007 and 2008, the Harbour Report named the Mack Avenue Engine Complex as the most productive engine manufacturing facility in its category; the plant spent just 3.77 labor hours per engine. In 2007, the Harbour Report named Mack Avenue II as the tenth best engine plant overall.

What became the Mack Avenue I plant (or “Old Mack”) was originally built in 1916 by the Michigan Stamping Company. When Michigan Stamping was sold to Briggs Manufacturing in 1920, Briggs made bodies there for Plymouth and others.

Briggs plant in 1954

Chrysler Corporation bought Mack Avenue and 11 other plants from Briggs in 1953 (for $35 million); the Briggs Mack Avenue stamping plant became the Chrysler Mack Avenue stamping plant, apparently with no substantial changes.

briggs stamping to chryslerIn 1979, a Chrysler facing sales shortfalls closed the now-outdated plant. Thieves made their way into the property, broke into transformers to steal the oil inside, and tracked PCB-contaminated oil through the site. Weeds and plants grew and water started to make its way into the stamping pits and underground passages. The City of Detroit bought the site in 1982, expecting to re-sell it, but was unable to remediate the problems or stop them from growing worse. Massive pits filled with water, oil, and toxic runoff, and the site continued to worsen.

In 1990, the EPA demanded that Chrysler clean up the plant’s asbestos and PCBs; the newly reinvigorated company finished the exterior, and started work on the interior, helped by the city and EPA. 11 million gallons of water had to be removed from the massive stamping pits, pumped into holding pools to clarifiers, through carbon filters, and into the sewers after being tested, in a nine month long process. 18 acres of walls and floors were power washed and more than 10 million pounds of contaminated materials were removed, as well as 16 million tons of nonhazardous dirt and debris. As much as possible was recycled; brick and concrete was crushed and used to fill the drained pits.

1998 mack avenue engine complexTackling the interior of the old Mack Avenue plant started in 1992, the same year the Dodge Viper started production in the new Mack Avenue factory (“New Mack”).

In 1995 Viper production moved to Conner Avenue; then a $930 million change started, which left the ceiling and structural steel intact as the only original parts of the New Mack site, and put a new, state of the art plant on the site of Old Mack. The result was a healthy, clean, safe, and productive engine factory, which started building engines in 1998 (expansion lines were launched in May 2001), and which would garner awards for health and safety.

The plant was built with 180 skylights, many windows, a fitness center, and white floors, all of which were designed to boost morale and quality. The city widened two nearby streets and acquired additional property, and the state DEP resolved all outstanding environmental issues. The cost of cleanup had been $29 million.

engine factory

Using Chrysler’s Operating System in a brand new site allowed the company to save 50,000 square feet of real estate, moving production lines closer together, reducing inventory and wasted time, and making operations more ergonomically friendly; the union and engineers worked together on process improvements. In 1999,  James Carlson, Director, Pollution Prevention and Remediation, noted that because of such contamination, many companies (including Japanese transplants) only located new plants in pristine areas. He reflected, "If corporate America doesn't reinvest in urban areas where we sell products, over time we will be changing society in a way that won't be healthy."

Nationally recognition for their efforts came when the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) and Renew America have named Chrysler a winner of the 1999 National Award for Sustainability for the restoration of the former Mack Stamping facility.

back fence

The plant has 1.4 million square feet of space, covering 110 acres, and made the 4.7 liter V8; it took over production from the historic Mound Road plant in 2002. Including both Mack I and Mack II, Chrysler spent $1.65 billion on the complex. It included state of the art air conditioning, natural lighting, and safeguards against future environmental issues, including underground spill containment systems, double-contained flumes and pipes, more efficient use of water, waste water re-use, lower use of hazardous materials, water-based coatings instead of solvent-based coatings, and energy efficient, low-mercury lighting.

Chrysler engine plant entrance

The Mack Avenue II plant has 650,000 square feet of space on 110 acres, and produced the closely related 3.7 liter V6. The plant employed 662 people in 2007, with 4 robots. The plant was built in 1999 to produce that engine; machining operations started in August 2000, assembly in October 2000, and the first engine was produced in November 2000. For a time it ran three crews, but in March 2008 they went from a three-crew, two-shift, 120-hour-per-week (3/2/120) schedule to a standard two-crew, two-shift schedule, following a 250-person layoff in early 2007. In mid-2007, Mack Avenue I employed 613 people and had 17 robots.

A 2004 article in Tomorrow (by Nancy Shepherdson) noted that a joint PQI team was formed with Newark plant workers to “bullet-proof” the 4.7 liter V8 before launching the second-generation Durango. Very few defective engines were returned to Mack I as a result.

Chrysler said on July 17, 2012, that it would idle Mack II on September 9, when the 3.7-liter V-6 engine goes out of production; it remains idle. All 182 UAW workers at the plant were offered new positions in the company. A prior report from the Detroit Free Press suggested that Mack II would be used for final assembly of the Maserati SUV based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee once engine production finishes and the plant is refitted — but this has been jettisoned.

A new report in November 2012 confirmed Allpar’s July rumors that engine parts were being re-insourced to the Trenton Engine plant, while Mack I was refitted to produce Pentastar V-6 engines, finally creating the “third plant” originally envisioned for this engine. The Pentastar is Chrysler’s sole V-6 engine family and is used in every vehicle from the Chrysler 200 to the Ram 1500, including Wrangler, minivans, Grand Cherokee, and 300C. Starting in January 2013, after a $198 investment, Mack I began producing engine parts and fully assembled V6 engines.

Thanks to photographer Carolyn Allmacher.

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