Success story: FCA chooses Ontario, Canada to build its technologically advanced Chrysler Pacifica
FCA invests US$2.6 billion in new minivan program
On February 29, 2016, the first Chrysler Pacifica minivan rolled off the assembly line at FCA’s Windsor, Ontario assembly plant.
More than three years in the making, the new Pacifica re-defines the minivan. It has a fuel efficient gasoline engine with a hybrid plug-in electric version to follow later in 2016, over 100 safety and security features and nearly 40 minivan firsts, including surround view camera, active noise cancellation and parallel/perpendicular park assist.
FCA has invested more than US$2.6 billion in the new minivan program, so there’s a lot riding on its success.
Which is why FCA turned to its Windsor assembly plant.
“We know how to make minivans. We’ve been building them here since Chrysler invented the segment in 1983,” says FCA’s Windsor plant manager Michael Brieda. “We earned this.”
First plant in North America to achieve silver status
Windsor was the first of FCA’s North American plants to achieve silver status in World Class Manufacturing (WCM), a methodology that improves production by reducing waste, increasing productivity, enhancing quality and keeping employees safe.
Fiat introduced WCM to Chrysler in June 2009 as part of the alliance between the two companies, and the Windsor employees embraced it from the start.
Highly skilled workers focused on quality
“Our workers are highly skilled, dedicated and focused on quality. They take great pride in the vehicles they produce,” says Brieda, who has been with the company for more than 20 years. “They were coming up with new and better ways to improve plant efficiency and product quality long before WCM. But with WCM, we got a formal system to recognize and implement their contributions and it’s been great for them, great for management and great for the plant overall.”
Since WCM was implemented, Windsor assembly plant employees have made, on average, 13 suggestions per employee per year – and the majority of them have been implemented.
Retooling a plant in record time
When FCA announced that Windsor was getting the call to build the Chrysler Pacifica – and that it would involve an almost complete retooling of the plant at a cost of nearly $1 billion – a team of key employees was put together to review and provide input into how the new technology could be maximized for efficiency. Their suggestions, which ranged from work station enhancements to product engineering innovations, have been “invaluable”, says Brieda. Retooling the 4.4 million-square-foot facility to everyone’s satisfaction took just 90 days. Something of a record.
Adding the Pacifica to Windsor’s line-up, which includes the Dodge Caravan, also required bringing new employees on board: 1,200 of them.
“We had more than ten times as many applicants as we could hire,” says Brieda, “so it meant that we could select the cream of the crop through a very rigorous hiring process.”
Advancements through R&D and collaboration with universities
And it’s not just FCA’s Windsor assembly plant employees who are contributing to the award-winning Pacifica. Advancements in lightweighting, electrification and hybrid powertrain technology developed at FCA’s Ontario-based Automotive Research and Development Centre (ARDC), in partnership with the University of Windsor, University of Waterloo and McMaster University, have been incorporated into the vehicle. As well, millions of hours of testing, product design and engineering at ARDC went into making it the most technologically advanced minivan in its class.
Google to add its autonomous car technology to Pacifica hybrids
FCA is confident the Chrysler Pacifica will be a winner for the company. Already the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association has named it the ‘Best Family’ and ‘Best Value’ vehicle for 2016 and Ward’s has put it on its Best 10 Interiors list. Google has announced it will integrate its autonomous car technology into the minivan by adding 100 Windsor-produced Pacifica hybrids to its self-driving fleet.
As for the Windsor assembly plant, in addition to turning out award-winning vehicles, it’s going for gold in World Class Manufacturing.