Toledo Wrangler jeep story

Keep Jeep

Toledoans panicked last month when Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne appeared to retreat from his promise to keep building the Jeep Wrangler here, saying that the sport utility vehicle’s proposed redesign with an aluminum unibody structure probably could not be executed at Toledo Assembly Complex. But more recent reports suggest that the Wrangler will keep its body-on-frame design, making its continued production in Toledo more likely, if not certain.

Chrysler, meanwhile, has remained silent on the specifics of its plans, if any, for the Wrangler in Toledo. The company ought to honor its commitment to build the Wrangler here, and it should be transparent about what economic incentives it wants to do so.

The Wrangler’s possible redesign is partly the result of federal standards that require automakers to improve their fuel economy significantly during the next decade. An aluminum build would make the car lighter and more efficient, but it would also require Chrysler to make big investments in infrastructure, whether the Wrangler stays in Toledo or moves to another North American plant.

Chrysler has just two other body-on-frame assembly plants, neither of which appear suited to accommodate Wrangler production. But Toledo officials have not been able to confirm Chrysler’s intention to stay here, suggesting that something is going on behind the scenes.

The automaker faces tough business decisions in its transition to a more fuel-efficient Wrangler. But the Wrangler has a decades-long history in Toledo, a productive work force trained to build it, and incentives the company previously got from local and state governments.

Jeep employs more than 1,000 Toledoans, and there’s the potential for more jobs to meet growing demand for the Wrangler. Chrysler has a responsibility to honor its relationship with the city and with its employees.

Now that it’s hinted at a potential exit from Toledo, Chrysler should be transparent with Toledoans about what incentives it would want to keep Wrangler production here. Such candor could drum up political support among Toledoans who are deeply invested in Jeep.

Mr. Marchionne has stated that even if Wrangler production is relocated, Chrysler’s number of jobs in Toledo would remain unchanged. But it’s unclear where those jobs would come from. The consistently strong sales of the iconic Wrangler are not guaranteed for Jeep’s other models.

Jeep’s legacy in Toledo is not just a slogan. The relationship has a lot of unrealized potential to raise revenue for both Chrysler and the city.

Several weeks a year, Chrysler could offer tours of the Jeep plant and even an exhibit of vintage Jeeps, which would be enjoyed both by the general public and Jeep’s devout customer base. It could host a version of Camp Jeep, its lucrative off-road driving program for Jeep owners, at the Toledo Assembly site.

Such developments would take advantage of Jeep’s history in Toledo and allow the city to recover part of the cost of any further incentives it would give Chrysler to keep the Wrangler in Toledo.

As Chrysler decides where to build the next generation of the Wrangler, it mustn’t underestimate the value of its enduring relationship with Toledo. That relationship — and Toledo’s devotion to Jeep — will continue to reap economic rewards for the brand.


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