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Van-plant overhaul

by David Zatz on

The Windsor minivan plant — first and now sole creator of the iconic vans — is down now, but when it re-opens in May, the 4.4 million square foot plant, which dates back to 1928, will be all but unrecognizable inside.

Around 80% of the assembly line and body shop equipment is being replaced, with over a thousand new robots; a huge number of contractors, workers, and skilled tradesman are at the plant, working against time to meet a 14-week deadline for refitting and renewal.

2011 Chrysler minivans

The expensive overhaul, essentially unsupported by the government, is designed to increase flexibility and quality. The plant had already made two Chrysler minivans and the Pacifica at once, then minivans with the Chrysler, Dodge, and Volkswagen labels, sheet metal, and trim.

It will now make just one minivan, under the Chrysler label, with a single engine and transmission expected for the gasoline version — and a hybrid version with batteries where the stow-n-go system would normally be. However, at least one full sized crossover is expected.

The plant started making minivans in 2013. Workers said that since the Pacifica was dropped, a great deal of space had been unused. Dodge is by far the largest minivan brand in Canada, while Chrysler and Dodge were the top two minivan brands in the United States last year.

The 2017 Chrysler Town & Country (or perhaps 2017 Chrysler Caravan) will be made starting in early 2016, but will debut months before then, and mules appear to already be driving around Auburn Hills. The plant will initially build current-edition minivans, piloting next-generation versions, which are expected to have completely new bodies and suspensions with the same engines and nine-speed automatics.  See our 2017 minivans page.

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