Detroit becomes ‘Jeep City’ with first new auto plant in 30 years


At the first new auto assembly plant, built in Motor City since 1991, the smell of hot metal fills the air as new Jeep Grand Cherokee L SUVs roll down the welding line.

For Stellantis NV (STLA.MI) that is the smell of money. That means nearly 5,000 jobs for the city of Detroit.

Stellantis opened the doors of its new $ 1.6 billion assembly complex on Mack Avenue Thursday, showing portions of a 3 million square foot complex that was largely completed and operational during the pandemic.

The Grand Cherokee L vehicles on the assembly line are the first in a new generation of Jeep’s best-selling lineup aimed at expanding the brand’s sales to customers who want a three-row SUV.

Until now, Grand Cherokees only offered seating for five people. Now, with space for up to seven passengers, Jeep can rival competitors such as the Explorer from Ford Motor Co (FN), the GMC Acadia from General Motors Co (GM.N) and larger SUVs from European and Japanese brands.

The plant, which started building vehicles in March, now works in three shifts, said plant manager Michael Brieda.

In a tight job market, Brieda said, the greatest challenge for the plant was “to find people who can work in a manufacturing environment”. Applicants were given skill tests as part of their interviews, he said.

Approximately 2,100 Detroit City residents were hired at the plant, the company said.

The new Jeep plant underscores the split personality of the US vehicle market, where most of the vehicles off the Mack assembly line are sold.

Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) is the most valuable automaker in the industry thanks to its lead in electric vehicle technology.

But for Detroit’s automaker, the demand for pickups and gasoline-powered SUVs is still paying the bills.

As the Mack assembly complex accelerates, Stellantis will have two neighboring factories in Detroit capable of producing 500,000 or more Grand Cherokee models per year. The nearby Jefferson North Jeep Plant was built in 1991 – and has been Motor City’s newest assembly plant to date.

Mario Holmes, the manager who oversaw the development of the Grand Cherokee L, said a lot of effort was put into developing a new, more efficient architecture that uses aluminum and high strength steel to save weight. Although the new model has three rows of seats, it is in the same weight class as five-passenger SUVs, he said.

An electrified powertrain will be offered, but details on that will come later, he said.

A sign of the importance of the Grand Cherokee L is that Brieda, the plant manager, said he had no problem sourcing enough semiconductors for the new model, even though Stellantis is shutting down assembly lines for other vehicles due to a global shortage of chips needed for modern drive systems.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Dusty Kennedy