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Toluca to solve Ram, Durango issues?

by David Zatz on

The Dodge Durango was slated for demolition not long ago, in favor of the similarly sized but more Jeepy Wagoneer.

Then Dodge hired Ron Burgundy, or, rather, Will Ferrell, to do a few commercials. He wrote and ad-libbed dozens of them, and the Durango shot up in popularity.

The problem is, the Wagoneer is still in the projected lineup, only now the Durango is, too. But the Jefferson North plant that makes both of them is already at capacity, so that making all three would add cost without providing extra sales.

Let’s move on to a “different” topic. Ram is selling well and appears to be facing its own capacity constraints, especially if Ford’s next steps don’t work out well and Ram converts are loyal customers. Ram isn’t doing well enough to justify a third plant, but it is doing well enough that the existing two are somewhat strained and can’t really add new variants which could boost sales.

Here’s a third topic: the Toluca, Mexico plant makes the Dodge Journey and Fiat 500, but both are scheduled to change platforms soon. The next generation 500 will be a global car, according to various sources, with no need for a localized American version. The Journey will almost certainly join Cherokee and 200 on a modified CUSW platform and may even share its basic suspension design with the next generation minivan, itself rumored to borrow from Durango. That leaves an empty plant.

One Mexican source said Toluca would be turned over to relatively small run models, which could mean any number of things. But let’s suppose for a moment someone in Auburn Hills thought, “Hey, we have two needs for large rear wheel drive vehicles. As long as we’re totally renovating Toluca anyway…we can put them together.”

Can one plant make a body-on-frame Ram pickup and a unit-body Durango? It would be pushing the limits of flexible manufacturing, surely.

Alternately — could the company be considering making three rear wheel drive based SUVs? Let’s consider the new rear wheel drive midsized car/crossover platform being created for Dodge and Alfa Romeo. This could be adapted to make a Dodge Journey that’s more appropriate for Dodge — and a Jeep “Cherokee XJ” replacement that does not have as many of the compromises needed by the “Cherokee KL”  for international and mass-market sale (that is, front wheel drive, light weight, and an on-road bias).

Thus, Toluca could realistically make:

  1. A rear wheel drive mid-sized Jeep, specialized in off-road excellence, meeting or beating the old XJ but without requiring enough sales to keep a plant full — thereby reducing its CAFE impact.
  2. A new Dodge Journey that fits with the new Dodge “muscle” image.
  3. The next-generation Dodge Durango.
  4. A midsized unibody pickup like the Jeep Comanche, if Colorado takes off.
  5. Whatever other crazy things Chrysler and Fiat can think up, like an adapted version of the large Iveco Daily van to better compete against Ford and Mercedes (Sprinter).

It would be expensive to refit the plant and develop the vehicles, but it would reinforce Jeep’s and Dodge’s credibility and reputation, keep or gain customers, and relieve the pressure on other plants (not that the CUSW plants in Belvidere or  Sterling Heights are having much of a problem keeping up so far, but they may be once the Chrysler compact and subcompact come out, and Dart is redesigned).

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