Recipe for Cherokee delay: new vehicle, new powertrain, renovated plant

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Chrysler Group's attempt to launch a new vehicle with an innovative new powertrain in a just-renovated plant is contributing to the delays in launching the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
"In Toledo, we have the perfect storm: new product, new plant, new people, new platform. At this point, training is the key for the success of this project," said Mauro Pino, head of World Class Manufacturing for Chrysler.
When it arrives in showrooms this fall, the Cherokee will be powered by either of two new engines from Chrysler connected to a new nine-speed automatic transmission licensed from ZF Friedrichshafen. In addition, the SUV has an innovative disconnecting driveshaft developed by American Axle & Manufacturing.
Chrysler took the unusual step of postponing a planned media drive event for the Cherokee scheduled to begin this week in Seattle to tweak the operational software of the Cherokee's powertrain. Chrysler originally was scheduled to begin producing Cherokees on May 23, but production didn't start until June 24.
The automaker has not released assembled Cherokees to dealers to make last-minute upgrades. In the meantime, the company is adding 1,100 workers for a second shift on its Cherokee line, currently scheduled to start Aug. 19.
Pino said the new workers are undergoing different levels of training from five to eight weeks, based on an individual assessment of their abilities.
'Training is key'
"At this point, training is the key for the success of this project. We are doing more than training. We are assessing the people as they are arriving," Pino said. "There are guys who need five to six weeks of training, and there are guys that need eight weeks of training."
Chrysler introduced Fiat's World Class Manufacturing system in 2009, shortly after Fiat took over operational control of the formerly bankrupt automaker.
Similar to Toyota's manufacturing process, Fiat's system encourages worker involvement and suggestions to eliminate waste. Twice a year, each plant is audited and its overall score represented on a scale from 1 to 100.
365,000 suggestions
Pino said the automaker received 365,000 suggestions during the last year from its entire workforce on how to improve the way they manufacture automobiles and components, about 70 percent of which were implemented.
The result has been a savings of several hundred million dollars, and a dramatic reduction of both injuries and unscheduled absences, Pino said.
Chrysler is adding 15,000 square feet onto its existing 25,000-square-foot manufacturing academy in Warren, Mich., and is expanding a satellite training facility in Saltillo, Mexico, as well, Pino said.
Chrysler is working with some suppliers to spread portions of its manufacturing system to other employers, Pino said. Most of that outreach is on a plant-to-plant level "so that we are speaking the same language when we talk to one another."
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