There has been a lot of concern surrounding the Belvidere Assembly Plant in Belvidere, Illinois which is home to the current Jeep® Cherokee. Issues started last year when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced that it would be laying off 1,371 workers at the Belvidere plant due to global sales of the Cherokee being down. The midsize Jeep SUV had a hard time gaining traction in the marketplace throughout Europe, while its smaller siblings the Renegade and Compass continue to climb the sales charts.
With the recent United Auto Workers (UAW) and FCA negations, there were a lot of rumors surrounding what would happen to the plant and the Cherokee. However, after the contract talks were done, both sides released statements saying that FCA would invest $55 million into updates to the Belvidere facility, while the production of the current Cherokee would continue. The statements also said that FCA planned on updating some next-generation safety features in 2020 for the Cherokee, while also stating that fresh models and features would be coming off of the current Cherokee platform.
This would lead one to think that everything is good at the Illinois plant. But on January 28th, FCA announced it was offering a “voluntary separation package” or buyout for the 3.900 employee workforce at the Belvidere plant. A lot of people have speculated that this is counter the 20% decrease in Jeep Cherokee sales in the 2019 model year.
Two separate buyout packages are being offered to employees. The first is the “Incentive to Retire Program” (IRP), which is a $60,000 one time payment. This is being offered nationwide at all three Detroit-based automakers as part of the new UAW contract, with the aim of driving thousands of higher-seniority workers out of the plants.
The second option is known as the Voluntary Termination of Employment (VTEP). VTEP also offers a lump sum payment, which varies based on seniority. Those who accept this option are not eligible for rehire, recall or re-employment with the company. Significantly, this means they will not be eligible for relocation to the new Mack Avenue Plant (also known as “Detroit 2” Assembly) in Detroit when it opens at the end of this year, paving the way for the company to run the plant using “in progression” and temporary workers.
So it leaves the question of, what is next for FCA’s most underutilized plant? A lot of people have been begging for a Chrysler-based three-row version of the Cherokee, like the Chinese-exclusive Jeep Commander and Grand Commander. The Commander and Grand Commander twins are more urban-based Jeep vehicles, not taking advantage of the brand’s off-road heritage with no off-road Trailhawk variants. Something that would be suitable for a Chrysler portfolio vehicle.
There are also variants of the Cherokee that have been teased over the previous two-years like the Desert-Rated Cherokee Deserthawk. Jeep recently showed off its all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave, the brand’s first “Desert-Rated” vehicle in Chicago, last week.
So what would you like to see FCA do with the Jeep Cherokee? Is it time to get rid of the Cherokee and start fresh? Or is it time to add a Chrysler three-row variant to the production lineup at Belvidere? Leave your comments below.