The recent contract negotiations between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and the United Auto Workers (UAW), have unveiled a lot of new things coming in the pipeline over the next few years. Most of the known products coming in the pipeline have been Jeep products like the upcoming Grand Cherokee (WL) and Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer (WS) models. But a lot of people have been wondering, what will happen to the Belvidere Assembly Plant in Belvidere, Illinois.
With only one vehicle running down its production line, the Belvidere plant is one of the most underutilized plants that FCA currently operates. As many of you recall, the Belvidere plant received the production of the Cherokee (KL) model during FCA’s plant shuffle to allow the Cherokee’s line at the Toledo South Assembly Plant to be reconfigured for the Jeep Wrangler (JL). While the Belvidere does build the Cherokee (KL) for most of the markets around the globe, one other plant (Changsha, China) builts the midsize Jeep for the Chinese market.
Last year, FCA announced that it would be laying off 1,371 employees of its 5,400+ workforce due to global sales of the Cherokee being down due to a poor global economy. However, the Cherokee has still remained a solid performer in the United States and Canada, and Jeep has no plans on letting the vehicle be discontinued anytime soon. Enter the new four-year UAW proposed contracts.
The new UAW contracts show that FCA is going to invest $55 million USD into the plant for what the contact is saying are “fresh models/features off of current (KL) platform”. The contract also states that the production of the Cherokee will continue and the vehicle will receive next-generation safety features added in 2020. So what does that mean?
Well, we do know that the Cherokee will be one of the first vehicles in a new lineup of “Desert-Rated” Deserthawk models. The Deserthawk was shown to the media during last year’s Capital Market Day event in Italy and showcased Jeep’s intentions to expand the brand’s offroad offerings. That vehicle was said to making an appearance as a 2020 model year vehicle, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it was pushed back until late 2020, as a 2021 model.
Another rumor that has been circulating for some time, is that the Belvidere plant will get the addition of another product based on the KL platform. That vehicle is said to be a new three-row Chrysler crossover vehicle based on the KL-variant Chinese-market Jeep Grand Commander. Such a vehicle would be instrumental in revitalizing the Chrysler brand, which will feature three variants of minivans after the Chrysler 300 sedan disappears sometime in the near future.
While FCA is promising new models and “features” off of the KL platform for Belvidere, there was no word in the contract about any additional jobs being added to the plant. Although it doesn’t look like the workforce will grow at the plant, it does give a little more security to the plant’s employees who have been questioning what will happen to the Belvidere facility recently.