TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Production of the new Jeep Cherokee that Chrysler executives think could be the brand's top-selling model should reach full production in an Ohio assembly plant by September.
The automaker said Thursday that the Cherokee began rolling off the assembly line almost a month ago at its Toledo plant and it expects the new sport-utility vehicles to be in showrooms this September.
Chrysler has hired about 1,100 new workers to staff second shift production and spent $500 million to renovate the assembly complex and add new technology.
"We're right on track with where we expected ourselves to be, and we'll push the envelope as we go forward," plant manager Zach Leroux told The Blade.
The automaker has high hopes for the Cherokee. Executives think it could be Jeep's top-selling model and become the star of its European auto market.
The Cherokee will be sold in about 150 countries.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in 2011 when announcing plans for the plant renovation that the believed the Jeep brand could grow worldwide behind its unique history. Originally made for the military, workers in Toledo have been producing Jeeps since 1941.
The new assembly complex, which opened 12 years ago and also produces the Jeep Wrangler, will have the ability to churn out 400,000 vehicles a year.
Once production is in full swing, the plant will be able to make nearly 900 Jeep Cherokees each day, Leroux said.
One of the most noticeable changes for production of the Cherokee is the increased automation.
Jobs once done by workers — including attaching doors, hoods and fenders to the vehicle's body — are handled by robots now.
Another addition is a lab where engineers are able to examine how parts are fitting together and make sure there are no problems in the assembly process.
"What our customers want is a vehicle that's smooth, it looks good, it sounds good, it functions properly," said Jim Cole, who oversees the area.