DETROIT — There is a section of Detroit’s east side that sums up the city’s decline, a grim landscape of boarded-up stores, abandoned homes and empty lots that stretch all the way to the river. And in the middle of it stands one of the most modern and successful auto plants in the world.
More than 4,600 workers staff Chrysler’s sprawling Jefferson North factory nearly around the clock, making one of the most profitable vehicles on the market, the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The plant was aging, sales volumes were plummeting and its future was in question. But a government bailout, along with two-tiered pay structure that cut wages for new employees by $12 an hour, saved the company and delivered it into the hands of Fiat, which now is its majority owner.
Since then, annual production has skyrocketed from fewer than 100,000 vehicles a year to more than 300,000. And a work force that had dwindled to 1,300 people has more than tripled. In June, Grand Cherokee sales rose 33 percent in the United States, as consumers paid as much as $50,000 for a fully loaded model.
The profits and productivity at Jefferson North would put it on par with the most efficient luxury car plants in Germany and the best factories operated by Japanese automakers in the southern United States.
That Jefferson North is situated in one of the most impoverished parts of Detroit only made it more of a gamble for Chrysler to keep.