TIPTON – Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne isn’t ready to say where, exactly, he’ll expand production capacity for Jeep vehicles.
“I refuse to answer the question,” Marchionne offered Tuesday during a press conference at the new Tipton Transmission Plant, when a reporter asked whether he’s selected a new “greenfield” site in the U.S.
Not content with giving a flat answer, Marchionne acknowledged what has long been known, that Jeep sales are growing quickly, and that the company is running out of production capacity at the three U.S. plants where Jeeps are assembled: Detroit, Toledo, Ohio, and Belvidere, Illinois.
The transmissions for those vehicles, however, will come from this area, with parts cast and machined in Kokomo, and assembled in Kokomo and Tipton.
And Marchionne pointed toward the Kokomo-area workforce as a big driver in the decision to keep transmission production in house, as the company pursues expansion.
“Do I care about the workforce in Kokomo? The answer is yes,” Marchionne said. “And that care and attention that we’ve had toward the workforce has been answered more than once by what I consider to be acts of courage and not acts of compliance with the labor agreement. That has allowed the workforce to deliver above and beyond expectations.”
Marchionne described the decision to begin building 8-speed, all-wheel drive transmissions in Kokomo almost as a test, saying the “impeccable caliber” of that launch formed the basis for the decision to also build the new 9-speed, all-wheel drive transmissions here.
The move to new transmissions, he said, was driven by necessity.
“[The plan for the new transmissions] was built from scratch, because we had nothing,” Marchionne said of the days in 2009, when the Italian company he helmed, Fiat SpA, took over operating control of Chrysler as it emerged from bankruptcy protection.