US: Chrysler deal raises Missouri plant questions

By just-auto.com editorial team | 17 October 2007

The future of two Chrysler plants in Missouri is under scrutiny following a closer look at the tentative contract agreed between Chrysler and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union last week after a strike lasting just a few hours.

The tentative four-year agreement finalised on Monday will now be presented to about 45,000 UAW workers who will begin ratification voting in the next day or two, according to the Associated Press (AP).

The news agency said a summary of the contract agreement lists future products for just seven of 21 Chrysler factories across North America, though it cites plans to close only three - assembly plants in Detroit and Newark, Delaware, and a powertrain plant in Detroit.

The Fenton plants in a suburb of St Louis are not slated for closure, but also are not among those with future product listings, AP said, adding that the summary report said the long-term viability of the Fenton South Assembly plant, where Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan minivans are made, is "tied to volume."

These models are also to be exported under the Chrysler Grand Voyager brand after an assembly contract for models sold outside North America with Magna Steyr ended.

Fenton's mayor told AP the plant had had $500m spent on it recently to make it more flexible and that right-hand drive models - previously built in Austria - were already in production.

Chrysler has another minivan plant in Ontario, Canada and is also due eventually to spin off Volkswagen-branded derivatives for the German automaker to sell in North America.

Neither UAW leaders at the South plant nor a Chrysler spokeswoman returned the news agency's phone calls seeking comment.

AP said Chrysler makes Dodge Ram pickups at its Fenton North Assembly Plant where the tentative agreement calls for continuing to make the pickups in Fenton to the end of the "current life cycle," including the 2008 launch of a new model.

"We're always concerned about the ability to manufacture our trucks," Glenn Kage, financial secretary-treasurer for UAW Local [branch] 136 at the North plant told the news agency, adding: "We're hopeful we'll be able to continue to manufacture our truck through the duration of our four-year contract."

Asked if he was concerned about the future of the plant, which employs about 1,800 union workers, Kage reportedly said, "Nothing jumps out at you, but the entire industry is market-driven."

AP also noted that Chrysler last March said it would cut 1,900 jobs in Fenton, mostly through attrition and voluntary retirement, as part of a companywide restructuring.