Chrysler has started building the 2006 Jeep Commander at the Jefferson North (Detroit) Assembly Plant, which has been the home of the Grand Cherokee since 1992. The new Commander is the fourth model in the current Jeep line.

Commander production marks the first time that JNAP has had the capability to produce more than one model at a time. Chrysler Group is giving each of its assembly plants the ability to produce multiple models on one production line, giving it the agility needed to respond quickly to market demand. Additionally, the plant will begin producing the SRT8 version of the Grand Cherokee in November.

"This manufacturing flexibility is critical to the future success of the Chrysler Group," said Simon Boag, head of assembly and stamping. "As we transform our operations, we are giving the company the freedom to schedule any build order necessary."

With foresight and strategic planning, the plant changeover to Commander production was primarily accomplished during the plant's Jeep Grand Cherokee changeover in early 2004, eliminating the need for two retooling periods. That move not only avoided the costs associated with a second retooling, it also gave the plant the ability to start piloting the Commander a full eight months before customer production in a rolling launch that did not require any additional down week or weeks.

The company invested $US241 million into JNAP in preparation for the production of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Part of that investment - $104 million - was for Commander body, paint and assembly tooling.

To accommodate the new model, many Commander-specific modifications were made to the plant. For example, the Commander is two inches longer than the Grand Cherokee, so changes had to be made along the assembly line from body-in-white to final assembly. And as the first Jeep with three rows of seats, additional ergonomic arms had to be added to the assembly line to assist operators with seat installation. The Commander's unique Command View skylights over the second row of seats required additional robots to insert overhead glass. About $25 million was invested into robotics for the new body style.

Recent agreements with UAW-represented employees have also cleared the way for new operating principles. The pacts are designed to foster greater creativity and innovation on the plant floor. They allow for work teams, self-designed work stations, a framework for flexible job classifications and extensive employee training. These elements will help provide a better, safer work environment and further support assembly line operators.

Aiding the production of the Commander is a 360,000 square-foot facility where parts are sequenced for just-in-time delivery. The center, which is just south of JNAP, has supported production at the plant since July 2004 and is operated by TDS/US. This minority-owned Tier 1 enterprise will handle the sequencing of parts for the Jeep Commander. The centre with a workforce of about 200, handles nearly 1,500 unique parts from more than 35 commodities, like door kits or trim kits. There are currently eight sequenced parts delivery operations supporting Chrysler plants.

Sequencing centres such as the one at Jefferson organise parts, deliver them to work stations on the vehicle assembly line and keep in-plant stocks at an optimal level. By carefully managing the material flow of the plant, the sequencing centre helps JNAP focus on manufacturing quality.

The Commander will also be built at the Magna Steyr manufacturing facility in Graz, Austria. Production is scheduled to begin in early 2006 for Europe and other markets outside of North America.