DETROIT — In a move that underscores the dramatic productivity gains that robots are bringing to the domestic auto industry, Chrysler said Thursday that it will double the production capacity of its Sterling Heights, Mich., assembly plant without adding any new workers.
Chrysler will spend $160 million on the expansion project, which will raise the plant's production capacity to 300,000 units a year. But, while the the number of robots used at the facility will be more than doubled to 220, the plant's current two-shift work force of about 4,300 will not be increased, a company spokesman said.
The expansion will allow Chrysler to build its new P-car compact models at the suburban Detroit plant beginning in May, 1986. Production of the P-car models, to be called the Plymouth Sundance and Dodge Shadow, will be done on the same assembly line as that used for the slightly larger H-cars, the Dodge Lancer and Chrysler LeBaron GTS models.
Different Cars on One Line
The increased use of robotics and other automated equipment allows production of different cars on one line, the company said. That manufacturing flexibility also means that it can vary the mix of H-cars and P-cars produced according to the sales demand without having to idle an assembly line because of sluggish sales of one product.
Chrysler had initially planned to build the P-car at its Belvidere, Ill., plant as a replacement for its Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon small cars.
But the company modified its product programs after import quotas on Japanese cars were eased this spring and the company became fearful that a flood of small imports would swamp its U.S.-built subcompacts.
When it decided to pare its investments in the domestic production of small cars, Chrysler changed the P-car from an inexpensive subcompact, competing head to head with Japanese small cars, to a more upscale, sporty compact model. It also halved its planned P-car output to 150,000 and shelved its plans to devote an entire plant to the new models.
The scaling down of the project meant that its new Sterling Heights plant could handle the reduced P-car output along with production of the H-car. Chrysler purchased the plant from Volkswagen of American and opened it last September to build the H-car.
Meanwhile, General Motors announced Thursday a major plant expansion. The company said it will spend $170 million to modernize the paint shop at its Tarrytown, N.Y., assembly plant by 1988.