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Sterling Heights prepping for Ram

by David Zatz on

FCA’s Sterling Heights assembly plant (“SHAP”) may not be making the Chrysler 200 any more, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty. Drivers on Van Dyke Avenue pass by a parking lot full of workers’ cars and a series of trailers, presumably portable offices, filling another lot. In short, SHAP is very busy, even if it’s not making any cars.


Suppliers and employees are changing Sterling Heights from unibody car assembly to body-on-frame truck assembly, as the company seeks to move mainstream pickup production from the ancient Warren Truck plant. Since the smallest Ram 1500 pickup is far larger than a Chrysler 200 in height and length, and has different basic construction, it’s no simple task.

SHAP will likely be set up to make everything up to the biggest Ram 3500 pickup, both for flexibility and in case of a trade war with Mexico — which is seeming far less likely than last year.

For the launch of the 2015 Chrysler 200, SHAP gained a new, highly robotic body shop. Some of its equipment will likely end up in Belvedere, which is going to be making the Jeep Cherokee — an SUV that shares many “hard points” with the 200.

Sterling Heights body shop

Allpar analysts wrote that the company could use both the new and old body shops to build the trucks — one taking the cab, the other the bed, and joining them in a “Y” line. This would allow the company to use the brand new body shop and a renovated version of the old one, rather than spending a billion dollars to start over.

The plant swap should increase quality and dramatically increase production, while freeing Warren to make high-margin variants of Ram pickups (such as the Jeep Wagoneer). While there’s an auto sales downturn around the corner, this is an industry that has six year product cycles and decades-long factory cycles; and Ram seems to be seeking a global sales base.

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