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Jefferson North ramps up for Durango production

by Bill Cawthon on


Six months after launching the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP) is adding 1,100 employees and a second shift as it prepares for the rollout of the 2011 Dodge Durango.

The nearly three-million-square-foot assembly plant, one of the last in an urban setting, was upgraded as part of World Class Manufacturing (WCM) and to accommodate the much larger Durango.

One of the most significant changes that needed to be made to the assembly line for production of the new 2011 Dodge Durango was increasing the length of each work station. Because the new Durango is 10 inches longer than the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, each work station needed to be increased from 19 feet to 20 feet. There wasn’t enough floor space to extend the line, so the team at JNAP took advantage of some unused space, compressed some stations, and worked on process efficiencies.

JNAP implemented an automatic vehicle identification (AVI) system to track each model with all of its unique pieces. Should the wrong parts be delivered, the line will stop until the correct parts can be installed.

Some differences between the Durango and the Grand Cherokee also required process changes. The Grand Cherokee has two rows of seats, but the Durango has three rows, and the second row tumbles to allow access to the third row. An additional tool was needed to attach a prop rod to the floor, and a third installation arm was added to the line to assist with the load in of the seat. The third row also meant the addition of seat belts, duct work for rear air conditioning and other unique parts that required new tools for installation.

Another difference is the Durango’s electro-hydraulic power steering. This unique feature required more line space and upgrades to the fluid fill line.

Before leaving the plant, every vehicle is put through rigorous testing. In the BSR station, where the Durango is shaken vigorously to detect any buzz, squeaks or rattles, had to make the posts that pick up the vehicle longer and wider, thereby increasing the landing space for the Durango while not impacting testing for the Grand Cherokee.

To boost production, a second shift of production (nearly 1,100 jobs) was added in July 2010. Each of the new employees took at least 32 hours of training. In total, JNAP has provided employees with nearly 50,000 hours of training in preparation for both launches.

Chrysler released new Durango details while announcing the launch. See our 2011 Dodge Durango page for details.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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