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Chrysler's back, and hiring

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Chrysler's back, and hiring



Who'd have thought Chrysler, sickliest of Detroit's three wobbly automakers a year ago, would be the first to hire a batch of 1,080 new production workers?

Note that I didn't say RE-hire from the seemingly endless lists of laid-off and jobs-banked autoworkers across the nation.

"We don't have anyone laid off at Chrysler, so naturally, we have the entry level workforce that will be coming in, and it's a good thing," UAW Vice President General Holiefield said Friday, following CEO Sergio Marchionne's revelation that Chrysler plans to add a second shift in July at its Detroit assembly plant and hire 1,080 people.

"It gets us back into the ballgame. It helps us to compete with our rivals, so we're all ready. We're all fired up," Holiefield proclaimed at an event to launch production of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee that turned into a pep rally of sorts for a city badly in need of some good news.

Yes, this is the same Chrysler that President Barack Obama's auto industry task force came within a whisker of tossing into the junkyard of Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation last year. Obama himself reportedly made the call to keep Chrysler alive with federal loans and an alliance with Fiat, the Italian automaker that Marchionne rescued from near-collapse a few years ago.

How did Chrysler deplete its ranks of surplus workers faster than either Ford or General Motors?

And what makes Marchionne so suddenly sure of Chrysler's future that he's willing to put 1,080 new people on the payroll?

Chrysler already had shrunk to a shadow of its former self under the private equity ownership of Cerberus Capital Management, and lots of its remaining workers were so worried about the company's dicey future that they opted for buyout and early retirement offers.

As for Marchionne, well, the guy certainly has no shortage of confidence.

Calling the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee the brand's "signature vehicle," Marchionne said the world will be watching to see if a reborn Chrysler can produce a world-class vehicle with world-class quality.

He wouldn't give a volume target for the Grand Cherokee, whose annual sales have fallen from 300,000 a decade ago to only 50,000 last year. But Michael Manley, the Jeep brand's president, said dealer orders are running 30%-40% ahead of Chrysler's own high expectations.

Asked if he can foresee adding a third shift at the Jefferson North plant someday, Marchionne said, "I do -- if I can sell more cars."

Chrysler? Who'd have thought? Marchionne, evidently.



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