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DaimlerChrysler AG is moving to cash in on its momentum in North America to create some space between Chrysler Group and its traditional rivals — the troubled General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.

The Chrysler Group is expected to announce officially today that it plans to build the production version of the Dodge Nitro concept on the same assembly line in Toledo, Ohio, now used to build the Jeep Liberty. The announcement will underscore how deft the Chrysler Group has become during the past couple of years at spinning off new variants of its most popular vehicles.

While the Nitro will use the Liberty’s basic chassis, the exterior sheetmetal has been designed to give it a distinct identity. The interior package also has been redone to separate the Nitro from the Jeep line. The Nitro is expected to reach showrooms next fall.

The Chrysler Group also is moving ahead with plans to replace its valuable minivans with new models, starting in 2007, with the help of the Canadian federal government and the provincial government in Ontario. The announcement marks the first confirmation that the new minivan models will be ready in the next two years.

DaimlerChrysler officials rolled out plans last week to spend $508 million over the next three years at the company’s minivan plant in Windsor, Ont., to get it ready for the new products and to build a new, state-of-the-art paint shop that will be operational by 2007. Paint quality is enormously important to consumers and it is very important to get it right, Chrysler officials noted.

Tom LaSorda, the Chrysler Group’s chief executive officer, said that the new paint shop will increase the Windsor plant’s manufacturing flexibility, quality, capacity, and productivity while reducing material costs, emissions, waste, and energy consumption. The 185,000-square-foot paint shop will be the most flexible in the Chrysler Group system and be capable of accommodating the dimensions of at least eleven different body styles.

Originally built in 1928, the Windsor Assembly Plant is the largest of the Chrysler Group’s 14 assembly plants at 4.01 million square feet. Right now it can build two completely different vehicle platforms and pilot a third simultaneously on the same production line thanks to the Chrysler Group’s earlier investments in the technology needed for flexible production systems.

The $508 million investment in the minivan plant is part of a larger investment totaling $640 million that includes money for the University of Windsor/DaimlerChrysler Canada Automotive Research and Development Center. The ARDC specializes in areas of R&D such as vehicle durability, emissions, and fuel economy, automotive recycling, vehicle safety, and automotive lighting.

Engineers from the Windsor research center played an integral role in the development of the Windsor Assembly Plant’s new paint shop. One of the features of the paint process in Windsor will be a “paint sludge dryer” where the excess paint in the system is captured, removed of moisture, and then reused in asphalt and automotive parts. The target is to reach zero landfill waste from the operation of this facility. The steel used for the new paint structure is being reclaimed from the nearby Pillette Assembly Plant, which DaimlerChrysler closed in 2004.

LaSorda also said Chrysler plans to spend additional money on training and upgrading the skills of workers at its plant in Brampton, Ont., where the company recently added a third shift. The additional shift will not only increase the plant’s capacity, but will also improve its flexibility for the manufacture of the company’s family of rear-wheel-drive sedans.

“With these new investments, DaimlerChrysler’s Canadian manufacturing and R&D operations will continue to play a critical role in the company’s global drive to achieving industry-leading products and benchmark operations,” LaSorda said.


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