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Will Wagoneer hail from Detroit?

by David Zatz on

Speculation. With production at Chrysler’s Jefferson Avenue plant maxing out and still not quite being enough to satisfy demand, some are wondering what Chrysler will do when the Jeep Wagoneer shows up around calendar-year 2015. This extended-wheelbase luxo-Jeep is expected to keep Grand Cherokee’s suspension architecture, but be slotted in above Durango in price.

Originally, many thought that the company would simply drop the Durango, but with demand rising for the seven-passenger SUV, that might not be as attractive as it was last year. Wagoneer would likely generate more profits, but the rear-drive, (optionally) Hemi-powered Durango fits in nicely with the “Dodge equals muscle” equation, in a way that a front-wheel-drive minivan-based crossover might not.

That said, there are some indications that Dodge may retain Durango until model-year 2017, replacing it then with a crossover on the new minivan/crossover platform. This would simplify production by having both Jefferson Avenue vehicles using the same off-road-biased suspension architecture; then Chrysler would just decide on whether to use the Durango or Voyager name on the new full-sized crossover.

Chrysler does have options. The Toluca plant is expected to give up Journey/Freemont and Fiat 500 production next year; the Fiat will move to Europe, as the next generation car incorporates American changes, and the Journey/Freemont will end up either at Sterling Heights (if it remains based on 200) or at Windsor (if it moves to a shortened minivan platform/architecture).  Toluca could be used to build a variety of Fiat cars and trucks, such as the new Strada, for Latin America and limited export to the United States and Canada; or it could be converted (at great expense) into an overflow plant for popular vehicles, such as Ram or Wagoneer.

Sterling Heights’ new body shop is very large, and perhaps one reason for that is to allow it to be a much more versatile plant that most. Just as Toluca can make tiny 500s and large Journeys, perhaps Sterling Heights can make Durangos, freeing Jefferson Avenue to be a Jeep-only plant.

Sterling Heights building Durangos seems unlikely, but one thing the plant could almost certainly do is build Jeep Cherokees if international demand strains Toledo’s resources.  Most likely, Sterling Heights would build only international-specification models (e.g diesels and manual-transmission versions), so that Americans would get Toledo Jeeps while Australian buyers would still get American-made Jeeps.

What we do know for sure is that Chrysler already knows what it is going to do, has designed flexibility into its recent assembly plants, and is keeping its secrets well.

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