2018 Jeep Wrangler Plant Tour: 5 Crucial Steps in Building an Off-Road Icon
Love your new Jeep Wrangler? We went to the Toledo Assembly Complex to see how Fiat Chrysler is pumping out as many of these off-road babies as humanly and robotically possible. It takes about 24 hours from start to finish and there are two 10-hour shifts, six days a week.
The Toledo complex is huge—3.9 million square feet and employing 5,600—and has a rich history. It dates back to 1904 when it was a bicycle factory before it made its first vehicles in 1910. The first Jeep was assembled in 1941, officially called the Willys-Overland MB but the “Jeep” nickname it earned during its military service has stuck to this day.
The Ohio factory grew substantially in 2001 with the addition of Toledo North which started building the 2002 Jeep Liberty. The South building, also known as the Supplier Park, made the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited from 2005 until April 2017. It was experimental in that robotics company Kuka owned and ran the body shop, Magna ran the paint shop, Hyundai-Mobis made the chassis, and then-Chrysler was in charge of final assembly. In time, Chrysler took over the paint shop.
In 2013, the complex launched the Cherokee and continued to build it until April 2017 when it was moved to the FCA plant in Belvidere, Illinois. That allowed the automaker to move Wrangler production to the larger North part of the complex. The success of the Wrangler had assembly bursting at the seams and unable to keep up with demand.
The vacated Supplier Park was retooled to make the new Jeep Gladiator pickup that will be shown next week at the Los Angeles auto show.
Here are five cool parts of the Wrangler assembly process.
Yes, rotisserie, as in chicken turning on your BBQ. This refers to a piece of equipment that rides on a moving platform and can rotate the freshly painted SUV body to make it easier to add the roof and underbody work for off-roading. The rotisserie can flip the SUV a full 180 degrees. I’ll have mine well done with no body panel gaps please.
Robotic Frame VIN Etch
Gigantic programmable robots grab a chassis and it is turned upside down to take advantage of gravity to make it easier to install the suspension components. Electrical components are also added and the VIN is etched into the frame. Jeep has 12 frame variations to accommodate a lineup of two- and four-door Wranglers with gas and diesel engines. Next year, a plug-in hybrid will be added to the lineup.
The frames ride on battery-free self-guided carts and the electricity comes from the floor that offers induction charging—like your phone charger. The system makes it easy to update the assembly line for future products. As long as the floor is mapped and prepped ahead of time, the path the carts take can be changed easily to accommodate a new station. That will be the case when additional hybrid component stations are added to the line next year.
Formally known as Body and Chassis Decking, this is the where the car becomes a car. It is where the body meets the chassis for the first time and after the marriage, it looks like a Wrangler. A robot plucks a body from above and brings it down to the chassis that is inching its way to the marrying station. Once they are bolted together, the Wrangler continues on to receive seats, wheels, doors, and more.
This is where the windshield is attached. The windshield is prepped, and a robot applies the urethane that acts as glue. Then another robot picks up the windshield and puts it into place.
Before any Wranglers leave the plant, they go through a series of tests. Among them is the “rolls test,” which brings the Jeep to highway speeds to test the powertrain and brakes and validate electrical systems and diagnostics. From there the line continues to a station to make sure the headlights are aiming in the right direction and the wheels are properly aligned. There is a regular water station test and also a new nine-position water test the randomly selected vehicles enter. It can change the pitch and roll of the vehicle while it is being showered with water from nozzles pointed in all directions.