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Fiat Chrysler Prepares to Overhaul Minivan Plant in Ontario

February 11, 2015

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will be shutting down its Windsor Assembly Plant in Ontario for 14 weeks. The facility will undergo retooling in preparation for the production of the next-generation minivan, which will replace the Chrysler Town & Country as well as the Dodge Grand Caravan.

The 4.4 million-square-foot Windsor factory, which has been building minivans since 1983, will be closed from February 16 to May 25. It will undergo what is considered the biggest changeover in its history. The plant’s overhaul is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ $2 billion investment for its new minivan.

Over the 14-week period, about 1,600 workers and contractors will be involved in the overhaul. Company officials disclosed that about 80 percent of the plant’s equipment in both the body shop and the assembly line will be replaced. When the plant reopens, it will have more than 800 new robots in the body shop as well as a “skillet line.” The latter will replace the overhead conveyor in the assembly line, as it allows the shell of the vehicle to be lifted or lowered to the workers’ height.

Retooling will start this week, but the plant’s renovation began late last year. It started with exterior construction which involved the use of a 600-ton crane for the installation of structural steel. 200 pieces of steel were used for a conveyor enclosure built on the roof of the factory.

The shutdown entails temporary layoffs for majority of the Windsor facility’s hourly workers. Those who will be laid off will receive a percentage of their salaries. Meanwhile, some skilled workers will work alongside contractors during the changeover. The plant employs a workforce of about 4,800.

Those in the market for the Town & Country and the Grand Caravan need not worry about supply. Employees at the Windsor Assembly Plant worked overtime for a couple of months to ensure that dealers will have enough on stock through the changeover period. The plant’s daily output is 1,490 units.

Michael Brieda, Windsor Assembly’s plant manager, said that employees will resume building the aforementioned minivans when the facility reopens. The plant will continue making the outgoing vehicles into 2016. As for the new minivan, production is expected to start middle of the year.

Fiat Chrysler has yet to reveal major details about the upcoming minivan, which is expected to premiere at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. In a conference at this year’s Detroit auto show, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said that the new offering may likely retain the Town & Country name, even if only as a trim level.

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