Perhaps the most well-known automotive assembly plant passed a hugely positive milestone this week, as the Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant produced its 5 millionth vehicle.
Opened in January 1992 to begin production of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the plant has gone on to continue to be the home of Jeep’s bread-and-butter midsize SUV. Along the way, it has also produced the Jeep Commander three-row SUV and, most recently, the three-row Dodge Durango. However, the 5 millionth vehicle was a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland, which the automaker staged next to a 1992 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, the first SUV to roll off the line.
“Twenty-one years ago, the first Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled off this assembly line and while it was questionable whether we would ever make it to this point, the people in this plant never lost their focus,” said Senior Vice President of Manufacturing Scott Garberding in a statement. “Certainly many things have changed over the years, but one thing has remained constant–the dedication and commitment of this workforce.”
The Grand Cherokee was a culmination of an often tenuous relationship between former CEO Lee Iacocca and VP Bob Lutz, a man who’d later go on to help fix an ailing General Motors a decade later. Jeep was purchased from American Motors in the late-1980s after the French company Renault (which now owns Nissan) offloaded the company. Some of the Jeep executives were picked up from Renault, and they helped an anachronistic Chrysler learn lean manufacturing and budgeting processes that helped stave off an seemingly clandestine second bankruptcy that would have been much worse for the company than the one that occurred in 2009.
The plant would end up coming back into the public eye as that 2009 bankruptcy brought an ailing Chrysler under reorganization. It would slowly be absorbed by the Fiat group, which is still buying back shares from the government and UAW four years later. President Obama used the plant to present a speech saying that U.S. manufacturing was coming back in a rally cry to the U.S. The plant would come back into the national spotlight later as it was revealed that employees were drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana on their lunch breaks shortly before returning to work. Some employees were permanently fired, but several have rejoined the plant’s staff.
Still, the Jefferson North plant continues to be a hallmark of American industry, and produces what we consider an excellent SUV in the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The 5 millionth vehicle will be donated to the USO, as Jeep has always had a strong relationship with supporting military veterans through its various public outreach efforts.