Fiat manufacturing boss inspects Chrysler plants
September 17, 2009 - 4:31 pm ET
DETROIT -- Fiat Group manufacturing guru Stefan Ketter inspected Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit this morning as part of a series of North American plant visits to improve Chrysler quality and efficiency, UAW officials said today.
Ketter, 50, wanted an update on how implementation of Fiat's manufacturing system is progressing, said Bill Parker, president of UAW Local 1700, which represents hourly workers at Sterling Heights.
The plant makes the Chrysler Sebring and Avenger mid-sized sedans and the Sebring convertible.
Parker said that this afternoon, Ketter was scheduled to visit Chrysler's Warren Truck assembly plant, where the Dodge Ram pickup is produced.
A union source at Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., plant said Ketter inspected the plant Tuesday. Yesterday, he was at the Brampton, Ontario, plant, the source said.
Belvidere builds the Dodge Caliber small car and Jeep Compass and Patriot crossovers. Brampton makes the Chrysler 300 and 300C sedans and the Dodge Charger and Challenger muscle cars.
A Chrysler spokesman declined to comment.
Parker said he was optimistic after Ketter's four-hour visit today that the Sterling Heights plant would stay open beyond the current Sebring production run through December 2010.
Ketter asked questions about the plant's paint shop, which needs to be replaced or expanded at a cost of at least $300 million, Parker said. The UAW president said he took that as an indication that Fiat is open to putting new product into the plant or extending the current Sebring run beyond 2010.
Parker has organized a Sept. 25 rally with city and county officials to urge Fiat to keep the plant open.
This week at the Frankfurt auto show, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said Chrysler had slipped competitively before Fiat took control of the company as part of Chrysler's emergence from bankruptcy protection this spring.
"We were surprised by how little had been done in the past 24 months," Marchionne said. "It will be a slow progress in the beginning, but we will see significant improvement in 2010."
Ketter, who was born in Brazil, rose through the ranks at BMW, Audi and Volkswagen before joining Fiat in 2004. At Volkswagen he was responsible for quality and service at Volkswagen of America.
The UAW's Parker said he has seen firsthand evidence of the Fiat manufacturing system at work. He said it is designed to get at the root causes of inefficiency.
For example, a rack used at Sterling Heights to bring parts to the assembly line was damaged about three weeks ago and replaced before the next shift came to work, Parker said. Before Fiat, that would have been the end of the story, Parker said.
But the Fiat system demanded that a reason be presented why the rack was damaged in the first place so future problems could be avoided, he said.
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