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Chrysler to unveil Jeep Grand Cherokee, Detroit plant

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Chrysler to unveil Jeep Grand Cherokee, Detroit plant

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

Chrysler Group LLC will lift the wraps Friday on its all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and the renovated Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit where it's being assembled.

The new Jeep and the refurbished plant are being touted as the first looks at Chrysler's future, in a partnership with Fiat SpA.

The quality of the new Jeep signals the company's renewed emphasis on quality. Chrysler's vehicles have scored poorly in many quality studies. Chrysler has said one key to improving quality is at the plant level, where Fiat's World Class Manufacturing system is being implemented.

"World Class Manufacturing is being rolled out at full speed at 28 plants," CEO Sergio Marchionne said Monday in a conference call with analysts.

On Friday, Marchionne will be joined by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing at the Jefferson North plant to help employees celebrate the production launch of the new Jeep. Later this year, a seven-passenger Dodge crossover will be added to the mix to replace the Durango, but it could drop the Durango name in favor of Magnum.

Jefferson North has transformed itself to make the new utility vehicles using the World Class Manufacturing system. That system is designed to improve quality and productivity by eliminating waste and bottlenecks in production and create a culture of employee involvement and motivation -- where individuals are proud of their work and encouraged to offer suggestions.

Fiat's system was devised from the much-vaunted manufacturing practices at Toyota Motor Corp. as well as other lean systems. Fiat put all that knowledge together, spread it across technical and managerial functions and linked it to cost with clear targets that are regularly audited and each plant is ranked, creating healthy competition.

The Fiat system was introduced five years ago today, and after taking over as CEO in June, Marchionne ordered its implementation across all Chrysler facilities.

More than 27,000 Chrysler employees have received some training, said Fiat manufacturing chief Stefan Ketter. As many as 60 Fiat specialists have helped introduce the system with 20 Fiat employees on site at U.S. plants at any given time.

Changing practices and even the physical layout and appearance of work stations takes a number of months to take full effect, Marchionne said.

'Fundamentally unrecognizable'

Leading the way is Jefferson North, largely because the Grand Cherokee is the first all-new product to hit the market since Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy and teamed up with Fiat. The fourth-generation Grand Cherokee goes on sale next month.

The Detroit plant used a one-month shutdown last October to restructure processes and train people.

"The plant is fundamentally unrecognizable," Marchionne said.

World Class Manufacturing calls for fewer materials and less inventory on the plant floor, fewer steps and motions with improved ergonomics and safety for workers, ease of maintenance for equipment and an overall cleaner, uncluttered work environment.

"Fiat has changed its whole culture and methods," Ketter said of the progress the Italian automaker has made over the past five years.

"Chrysler will get there quicker because we developed a lot of best practices at Fiat that could be taken over immediately," Ketter said in an interview earlier this year. Implementation time could be reduced as much as 40 percent.

Ketter said when he began spending time in Chrysler plants he was surprised by the volumes they were capable of given a lack of advancement in some aspects of manufacturing.

He said he has found Chrysler employees as well as the United Auto Workers and Canadian Auto Workers unions supportive of the initiatives. He described the work force at Jefferson North as self-motivating as they work to reach the goals of the program.

Plant audits next year

All Chrysler plants are to be audited by mid-2011, Ketter said. Among the first have been the Dundee engine plant, the minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario, and Warren stamping.

Chrysler's goal is to decrease operating costs by 8 percent this year, while improving productivity 10 percent as a result of implementing World Class Manufacturing.

Other measurements include improving first-time quality by 15 percent, reducing injuries by 30 percent and increasing employment involvement 100 percent.

Chrysler saved $1.4 million last year by improving its manufacturing and is forecast to save about $1.5 million this year, Ketter said.

The plan is to extend the rigorous standards to the plants of 500 Fiat and Chrysler suppliers for about $2.3 billion in savings by 2014.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100516/AUTO01/5160311/1148/auto01/Chrysler-to-unveil-Jeep-Grand-Cherokee--Detroit-plant#ixzz0oBzOrriI

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