TURIN - ... In 2014, Fiat introduces the 500X, a replacement for the current Sedici small crossover likely to be built at its Melfi plant in Central Italy alongside a "baby" Jeep Wrangler small SUV for European and U.S. markets. Alfa will launch the 4C spider and possibly a large sedan, a possible substitute for the discontinued 164 sedan. Maserati will begin sales of the Levante luxury SUV, based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee.The story was also reported elsewhere, such as Autoblog:
In a bid to fill some of its empty Italian production capacity, Fiat plans to build a pair of small SUVs at its plant in Melfi starting in 2014, according to Automotive News Europe. With most Chrysler plants running at or near full capacity, the Melfi facility will probably build the new Fiat and Jeep SUVs for export to North America. The final decision could come as soon as this weekend. The new small Jeep is expected to replace the Patriot and/or Compass, which are both produced in Chrysler's Belvidere, Illinois plant...While Italy is not China, Chrysler and the Obama administration pushed back hard against the idea that any Jeep production was being shifted overseas. At the height of the controversy and a week before the election, Chrysler chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne wrote a blog post. In part, he said:
In addition to these new Fiat and Jeep SUVs, the upcoming Chrysler 100 hatchback could also be built in Italy at Fiat's Cassino plant.
Jeep is one of our truly global brands with uniquely American roots. This will never change. So much so that we committed that the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio plant, will never see full production outside the United States.Marchionne, though not a politician, seems to have chosen his words carefully and precisely. For instance, "the iconic Wrangler nameplate, currently produced in our Toledo, Ohio plant, will never see full production outside the United States." He went on to say, "Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States", and not "Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation only in the United States." As I noted in my original post on this story (before national attention became focused on it,) Marchionne's comments in 2011 regarding Jeep and especially the Wrangler were a bit more sweeping:
Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand.
It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.
“This [Toledo, Ohio] plant has been at the heart of what we’ve done. I’ve said publicly that I would never build the Wrangler outside the U.S. and outside of Toledo. These are things that are unthinkable — to assemble a Wrangler somewhere else,” Marchionne said in November, 2011.So what is this "'baby' Jeep Wrangler" planned for the Melfi plant in Italy for export to the U.S.? Will Chrysler give it a different name to keep Marchionne's pledge technically intact? Wasn't one of the ideas that made foreign production of Jeeps so unthinkable was the importing of those Jeeps with "uniquely American roots" into the United States? But that sounds very much like Fiat's current plan. And if that's not enough, there's the more ominous albeit less clear statement in the Autoblog story that says "The new small Jeep [built at the Melfi, Italy plant for export to North America] is expected to replace the Patriot and/or Compass, which are both produced in Chrysler's Belvidere, Illinois plant." A foreign-built Jeep exported to the U.S. to "replace" an American made model? How could that be spun as good news for U.S. jobs?
There is no question that Jeep production in the U.S. is thriving and that it appears no current Jeep-related Chrysler jobs in the U.S. are in direct jeopardy. However, the argument could be made that if Jeeps are being made in Italy for export to the U.S., those vehicles and the jobs created to build them could be American made cars and jobs.
Perhaps in an effort to deflect criticism from the Romney campaign, Chrysler overshot the truth in its claims just as the Romney campaign did with their initial claim that "all Jeep production" was going to be shifted to China. Unfortunately, the Romney campaign never fully retracted its candidate's original erroneous statement, choosing to simply switch the focus to more general assertions that the U.S. automaker was creating jobs overseas. It remains to be seen if Chrysler will set the record straight about its plans for Jeep production, particularly the Wrangler brand, and how that squares with Marchionne's public statements.