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OM in the News: Detroit’s Last Car Plant Standing

July 17, 2013
The last auto plant in Detroit generates $2 billion in annual profit for Chrysler

The last auto plant in Detroit generates $2 billion in annual profit for Chrysler

There is a section of Detroit that sums up the city’s decline, a grim landscape of boarded-up stores, abandoned homes and empty lots that stretch all the way to the river. And in the middle of it stands one of the most modern and successful auto plants in the world. More than 4,600 workers staff Chrysler’s sprawling Jefferson North factory nearly around the clock, writes The New York Times (July 16, 2013), making one of the most profitable vehicles on the market, the Jeep Grand Cherokee.       

“Everything is aligned there,” said one auto analyst. “You have a hot-selling, high-profit vehicle, a flexible labor agreement and a facility that the company has invested in instead of abandoned.” Annual production has skyrocketed from fewer than 100,000 vehicles a year in 2009 to more than 300,000. And a work force that had dwindled to 1,300 people has more than tripled. In June, Grand Cherokee sales rose 33%, as buyers paid as much as $50,000 for the model.

The profits and productivity at Jefferson North put it on par with the most efficient luxury car plants in Germany and the best factories operated by Japanese automakers in the southern US.  Today, Jefferson North stands as the last auto assembly plant in Detroit’s city limits, which once had nearly a dozen of them.

The company has taken advantage of the groundbreaking 2007 labor agreement with the United Automobile Workers union, to bring on new employees at an entry-level wage under $16 an hour, compared with the $28 earned by longtime union workers.  Since its bankruptcy, Chrysler has hired two full shifts of new workers, over 2,200 people, at the lower wage.

Discussion questions:

1. Why is this plant successful?

2. What operations decisions have helped Chrysler?

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