Chrysler Group LLC may hire more than 3,000 workers and add production shifts at plants in Michigan and Illinois in coming months to increase sales of some of its most popular vehicles, a United Auto Workers official said.
The three additional shifts, each accounting for about 1,000 jobs, would be at plants in Detroit and Sterling Heights, Michigan, and Belvidere, Illinois, General Holiefield, the UAW vice president in charge of Chrysler, said yesterday in an interview in Detroit.
“There have been indications that they would love to put on a third shift, but it’s all tied to volume and the demand,” Holiefield said of the plants.
Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne boosted Chrysler’s global sales 18 percent through April and posted a first-quarter net profit of $116 million, its first since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009. He’s seeking to refinance U.S. and Canadian government debt this quarter, allowing Fiat SpA (F) to increase its ownership stake to 46 percent from 30 percent.
Jodi Tinson, a spokeswoman for Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler, declined to comment on the potential hiring and additional shifts.
The Michigan and Illinois factories each have two shifts and employ a combined 7,000 hourly workers, according to Chrysler’s website.
The Detroit plant builds the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has increased U.S. sales 86 percent through April, according to researcher Autodata Corp.
The Sterling Heights plant assembles the Chrysler 200 sedan, which was featured in a Super Bowl commercial with rapper Eminem. The Belvidere plant makes the Dodge Caliber small car and Jeep Compass and Patriot sport-utility vehicles. U.S. sales of the refreshed Compass have risen 79 percent this year.
Holiefield said he hopes the shifts would be added “between now and early summer” because there is potential for Chrysler to boost sales of the vehicles.
Chrysler may need to boost production of the Grand Cherokee given its success in the U.S. and its potential overseas, said Mike Jackson, head of North American vehicle forecasting at IHS Automotive in Northville, Michigan.
The automaker also may gain sales because production disruptions from the March 11 earthquake in Japan have made supplies of some vehicles scarce, he said in a telephone interview.
“Chrysler has been pretty aggressive, and where products have been updated and where they’re competitive in the marketplace, there’s going to be additional opportunity,” Jackson said. “The need for that kind of volume, though, I would say that tends toward the optimistic side of the spectrum.”
The UAW will negotiate new labor contracts with Chrysler, Ford Motor Co. (F) and General Motors Co. (GM) to replace agreements expiring in September. Unlike previous negotiations, Chrysler plants aren’t under threat for closing, Holiefield said.
“Our whole conversations have been about building,” he said. “My whole theme is jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s so important to me that we rebuild our facilities.”
As part of its efforts to increase jobs, the UAW wants Chrysler to make more of its own components, Holiefield said.
“We have made ourselves competitive throughout the manufacturing landscape where there are supplier industries out there that don’t do as good a job as we do now,” he said. “It would be lucrative to bring that work in-house.”
The UAW’s relationship with Marchionne was strengthened 120 days into Fiat’s control when Holiefield and then-UAW President Ron Gettelfinger attended a long-range planning meeting at the automaker’s headquarters.
“We were very impressed with the direction that he wanted to lead the company, but there was still the skepticism,” Holiefield said. “He sensed it.”
Marchionne took them to company’s design center, where the automaker’s future vehicles were covered and parked in a circle.
“He walked over to what would’ve been the Dodge Charger and yanked the blanket off -- I nearly flipped,” Holiefield said. “He caught my reaction and said, ‘You thought I was bulls-- tting you for the last 120 days didn’t you?’”
The CEO continued ripping off car covers showing upcoming models that would eventually help boost sales this year.
“At that point in time, all of my fears were gone and I knew this was for real,” Holiefield said.
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