Windsor, Ontario Chrysler plants
Originally built in 1928, the surviving Windsor Assembly Plant is the largest of 14 Chrysler assembly plants with 4 million square feet of floor space. Since the 1990s, Windsor has increased its lead in productivity and quality, thanks largely to an employee-led change effort.
The complex dates back to 1916, when Chalmers set up a branch factory in what was then Walkerville and what is now Windsor, Ontario. Maxwell opened a factory nearby shortly afterwards. Thus, when Maxwell and Chalmers were reorganized to become Chrysler Corporation of Canada Limited in 1925, they already had a major Windsor presence, which became even greater in 1928 with the purchase of Dodge Brothers, whose Toronto operations were moved to Windsor. The company built a new factory on Tecumseh Road in South Walkerville, which built all Chrysler brands — 20,010 cars in its first year, which gave Chrysler a larger market share in Canada than in the United States.
Plant 1: Truck Production
The Maxwell-Chalmers factory on Tecumseh Road at McDougall was converted to truck production in 1931, making Dodge, Graham, and Fargo trucks. This became “Plant 1,” and it remained in truck production until 1978; in 1980 it re-opened, until 1983, as the Imperial Quality Assurance Centre. From 1972 until 1978, the plant made commercial D-400 to D-700 models. “Bluecon” thought it was the home of the L’il Red Express Trucks.
|Chalmers||1916-24||Fargo Truck||1928-29; 1935-72|
|Maxwell||1924-25||Dodge Bros., Graham Bros. Trucks||1929|
|Plymouth, DeSoto||1928-29||DeSoto and Chrysler Airflow||1935-36 (1936 models)|
Plant 2: Windsor Engine Plant
A related factory (Plant 2, or the Windsor Engine Plant), built in 1938, was expanded at the cost of $29 million in 1955, and was operated until 1980. It was just south of the existing minivan factory, Plant 3, and mainly made six-cylinder and V8 engines.
Plant 3: Windsor Assembly Plant
The various Canadian plants were essential to Chrysler, partly due to local-production rules, and partly because American designs were adapted to Canadian needs, resulting in, among other things, the “Plodges,” Dodge-labelled Plymouths. Dealer groups were originally Chrysler, Plymouth, and Fargo, and Dodge, DeSoto, and Dodge Truck. When DeSoto was dropped, it was replaced by Chrysler, so most dealers had the Chrysler brand. The local production tax advantages ended in 1965 with the Auto Pact, and Chrysler switched its plants from making small numbers of all vehicles to larger numbers of fewer vehicles, cutting the number of models in half between 1965 and 1967. Chrysler Canada had sent 81,000 cars to the U.S. before GM Canada sent any.
The Windsor Assembly Plant (Plant 3) was built in 1929. Retired Chrysler Canada photographer Larry Monkhouse wrote that, in the late 1950s, “Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, and Chrysler models were built on the same assembly line. Production included the Chrysler Windsor shown above, and the Dodge Viscount for the Canadian market. Dodge and Plymouth models shared body panels.”
- Larry provided numerous photos of 1975 cars being built at Windsor
- Dan Stern provided photos and movies of 2009 minivans being built at Windsor
- Gregg Groff provided photos and a movie of 2011 minivans being built at Windsor
The Windsor Assembly Plant had made a much greater variety of vehicles before the 1965 Auto Pact; to quote The Chrysler Canada Story, “...the factories in Windsor quickly integrated into the North American industrial strategy. The mix of models running down the assembly lines in Windsor was significantly cut. Valiant (not Plymouth) Barracudas, Plymouth Belvederes, Dodge Coronet and Charger models and Imperials were imported while Dodge Darts (not built or sold in Canada previously) were now assembled and exported Stateside. That ability to concentrate on building fewer models translated into a 35% higher rate of productivity. In the first two years of Auto Pact, Chrysler Canada exported nearly 60% of all the Canadian vehicles delivered to the US market.
[A decade later,] Windsor was chosen to be home to the new, downsized luxury Chrysler Cordoba and the upscale Dodge Charger SE. 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.”
In 1977, Windsor added 136,000 square feet to build capacity to build the 360 engines.
|Maxwell||1924-25||Dart||1959-62; 1965-66, 1969-75|
|Dodge and Plymouth||1929-69||Imperial, Fifth Ave, Diplomat|
|DeSoto||1928-60||Caravelle, Gran Fury||1980-83|
The original Windsor Assembly Plant (Plant 3) started at out 289,000 square feet and grew to 2.5 million square feet. It was the sole source for numerous cars, including the Cordoba, Charger SE, Magnum XE, Mirada, 1981-83 Imperial, and 1981-83 Diplomat and Gran Fury.
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. 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.)
Plant 3, the original minivan factory, converted to flexible manufacturing in 2003 and now the sole Chrysler minivan factory again. Windsor employed 4,600 people in early 2007 and survived the St. Louis and Austria facilities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, measuring success by the numbers
- Sharing the “big picture” through daily production letters, leave of absence and manpower planning, town hall meetings, handouts, and posted goals and objectives throughout the plant; through the CAW newspaper and posting boards; and through the core team’s newsletter.
The changes at Windsor may have been partly and indirectly responsible for the trend that led to the current empowered work teams.
Pillette Road van factory: Plant 6
The nearby Pillette Road plant (Plant 6), also in Windsor, was completed in 1974 to help fill the demand for Chrysler’s popular B-vans, which, starting in 1973 and through the 1970s, were the market leaders, beating Ford and Chevrolet. Starting in 1974, the Plymouth Voyager (whose name, in 1984, would be attached to the new minivans) was sold alongside the Dodge Sportsman, and Chrysler justifiably expected a sales increase.
The vans were sold both as completed cargo and passenger vehicles, and as chassis for motor homes, tow trucks, and other custom-bodied vehicles.
Plant #6 was expanded in 1978; this may have been related to the 1978-model-year introduction of the Street Van and the first-time availability of big block engines (400 and 440 cid) in Chrysler vans.
When the vans’ popularity dropped, the Pillette Road plant became the sole source of those vans. Both van and plant were dropped in 2003; the plant was intended to build an additional vehicle (rumored to be a new crossover) afterwards, and a new paint shop had been built, but under Daimler there were no investments for growth, and the plant was demolished and sold.
Bill Watson wrote:
When GM announced Fisher Body was no longer going to supply bodies for non-GM makes, Chrysler of Canada had a big problem. There were no other body builders in Canada who could take up Chrysler's business.
In the U.S., Chrysler, which also used Briggs, Murray, and Hayes, acquired a body plant on Kercheval Avenue. But in Canada the only large body builder, Canada Top and Body in Tilbury, Ontario, was busy with its work for Durant and Willys. Studebaker and Ford built their own bodies in Canada and neither Briggs nor Murray had Canadian operations.
Chrysler of Canada decided to acquire the two Fisher Body plants in Walkerville where Chrysler bodies had been built. When the Chrysler Centre plant opened, body production was moved there and the Walkerville plants were sold.
Walkerville itself later became part of the city of Windsor.
Chrysler’s Canadian factories, 2006
|Name||Location||What it made in 2006||Notes|
|Brampton Assembly||Ontario||Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum, Dodge Charger, SRT8||Flex plant, 3 million sq. ft, 4,200 emps incl stamping plant below. Built 1986 by AMC.|
|Brampton Stamping||Ontario||72 outer body stampings||Started 1991.|
|Etobicoke Casting||Etobicoke, Ontario||Aluminum die castings, pistons|
|Windsor Assembly||Ontario||Town & Country, Grand Caravan, and Pacifica (mix varies)||Flex plant, 4 million sq. ft., 5,522 emps. Built 1928 - minivans started 1983.|
Chrysler Canada has had a larger market share than Chrysler in the U.S. for three years out of four from its founding through 1983, and outsold Ford in 1976, 1982, and 1983. The five millionth car produced by the Windsor Assembly Plant was a minivan, built on May 9, 1984.
- Photos: building Chrysler Cordobas and Dodge Chargers at the Windsor Assembly Plant in 1975
- Preparing the Windsor factory for the 2008 minivans: flexible manufacturing, work teams, and more
- Chrysler factories