Greetings Mr. Marchionne,
I feel a need to write to you in this forum because we are both men of this industry; while we also enjoy sweaters over dress shirts, the comparison probably ends there. I do not work for your company in any capacity and, outside of being from Toledo, I have no dog in this fight. But - as men of this industry - I feel like there are grounds enough for us to have a discussion.
While I had heard something similar back in May, it was an article today that compelled me to speak up (paywall if you go to Autonews too often and don't have a subscription):
In your remarks to the European press you stated directly that the Toledo Assembly Complex would be unable to meet the flexibility requirements to handle an aluminum unibody construction without massive infrastructure costs. You alluded that these costs would be prohibitive enough to justify removing Wrangler production from its ancestral home. And yes, you also stated that the goal would be "zero impact on head count."
I understand the business case. While the world watches to see if the aluminum bodies that Ford is implementing will be a smart move I can guarantee you that it will be. The ICE, hybrid, and diesel options available on the market will continue to improve but a multi-pronged attack is needed to meet the future government regulations coming down the pipe as well as continuing to meet customers expectations for performance. Being one of the first in the aluminum body arena will give you lead time to develop across your lineups and allow engineering to be shared (something Chrysler and Fiat want to excel at) and to outpace your competitors. The need to move into that space NOW rather than in two years is a necessity and to do so will require the implementation of development planning TODAY; it is in the best interest of your shareholders and stakeholders. To be ahead of the curve means the decisions regarding Toledo will not be a 2018 commitment, it will be a 2015 commitment (internally at least).
But your stakeholders aren't just your team members or employees. They are your customers, with whom a bond is built upon good product. The loudest advocates for Jeep has always been Toledoans, and our purchases reflect that. As part of the global portfolio, Jeep is a strong brand with good recognition and it must move forward but it should do so with respect to its past.
Toledo has watched Jeep go through all of the changes and owners, the ups and downs: it is a part of our shared social heritage. And while some Jeeps (like the Cherokee) would be able to soldier on from the TAC, at what point would that line cease as well? It has happened before.
No, Toledo needs to continue to make the most fundamental of Jeeps for the very basic principle that the commitments made to Toledo would be in jeopardy from the moment such a move was announced. No matter what happens to the brand, the "Jeep" at its heart must remain in Toledo.
To be frank, given the infrastructure costs needed to create an aluminum unibody line (something you do not currently have) you will be starting from scratch...somewhere. Why not add on to the existing complex or build on the site of the original Overland plant? It would be possible to avoid impacting the existing production; proximity to 80-90 and I-75 and the rail hub would allow for quick shipment of vehicles anywhere in the country; workers with automotive backgrounds are plentiful.
Perhaps even that is still too much a price; I am not coming to you with deep-seated reason or balance sheets to support my plea. The costs may still be prohibitive in the short term...but has Jeep (and its home) not paid dividends enough? In exchange for ownership you were gifted a brand with international positioning and the ability to be a phenomenal sales performer. Jeep has made you money and Toledo was a part of that from the beginning.
Ask yourself: would you move Ferrari from Maranello? It may be cheaper to build them elsewhere, there may be better skilled craftspeople...but some things in this industry have to be about the soul of the thing as much as about the ledger. And before you dismiss this juxtaposition, remember that Il Commendatore would not.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this.