By Kevin Kelleher
December 7, 2018

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is planning to convert an engine plant that has been idle since 2012 into an auto-assembly plant, in what would be the first auto-assembly line to open in Detroit in 27 years, the Detroit News reported.

The automaker will use the plant to help manufacture a new three-row Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV for model year 2021. It could employ as many as 400 workers, said the report, which cited multiple unnamed sources. Fiat Chrysler and other automakers have been shifting production away from sedans toward SUVs as consumers favor larger vehicles.

The facility, known as the Mack Avenue Engine II plant, was opened in 2000 to manufacture engines for Jeeps and trucks, then idled in 2012 as Chrysler replaced those engines with ones made in Michigan and Mexico.

The news comes as General Motors CEO Marry Barra attends two days of meetings with U.S. lawmakers who are pressuring her to maintain production at U.S. assembly plants. Last week, GM announced it would close several plants in North America and lay off as many as 15,000 workers, a move that drew criticism from affected communities, unions, and politicians including President Trump.

“[Fiat Chrysler] is essentially out of capacity,” Jeff Schuster, an analyst with LMC Automotive, told the Detroit News. “They’re kind of running up against being against full capacity. This is a very different situation than what GM is dealing with.”

In June, Fiat Chrysler announced a five-year plan aimed at doubling profit and restoring dividends for the first time since the 2014 merger of the two automakers. The company also plans to invest $11 billion in producing a fleet of electric vehicles through 2022.

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