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Jeep Wrangler hardtops hard to find; Chrysler cites ‘supplier constraint

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Jeep Wrangler hardtops hard to find; Chrysler cites ‘supplier constraint

Bradford Wernle

and Robert Sherefkin

Automotive News -- February 26, 2010 - 4:55 pm ET

UPDATED: 2/26/10 5:24 p.m. ET

DETROIT -- Jeep dealers face a shortage of Wrangler hardtops in the next several months because of a “supplier constraint,” the company said in a memo to dealers yesterday.

The memo advised dealers to order softtop Wranglers during the period.

Troy Allen, owner of Allen Motors, a small Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealership in Derry, N.H., said he had hard a hard time getting any Wranglers but particularly hardtops.

“Nobody seems to be able to get hardtops,” and Chrysler has not offered a clear explanation for the shortage, he said. Allen said a lack of hardtop Wranglers would hurt his sales because most customers in wintry New England prefer the hardtop. Most customers are willing to spend the extra $735 option price to get the hardtop, he said.

“Wranglers in the Northeast would be 80-85 percent hardtops. People drive these things all winter long,” Allen said.

As of Feb. 1, Jeep had 16,653 Wranglers in its U.S. inventories -- a 69 day supply, according to the Automotive News data center. But the figures do not show how much inventory is hardtops.

The hardtops for the Jeep Wranglers were built by Meridian Automotive Systems Inc., which filed for Chapter 7 liquidation in early August last year. After Meridian ceased operations, the job was taken over by Continental Structural Plastics Inc., of suburban Detroit.

The tops are complex to manufacture and were difficult to move to a successor supplier, said a supplier executive familiar with Chrysler's Jeep roof problems. Those tops are made with sheet-molded composite plastic that requires large and expensive molding presses, paint application booths and curing ovens.

The top assembly requires about two dozen parts. The hardtop roof includes “freedom panels” that can be removed.

The Wrangler is manufactured at Chrysler's Toledo Supplier Park.

Today Chrysler issued a statement that did not address the specifics of the shortage:

“We continue to work with our supply base to align supply with demand and are very pleased that demand for both hardtop and softtop Jeep Wranglers is so robust. We are working to accommodate even greater demand on hardtops and have plans to augment existing production as necessary."

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