Stellantis has announced plans to indefinitely idle the Belvidere Assembly plant that builds the Jeep Cherokee.
According to CNBC, the plant will cease production on February 28th and leave more than 1,200 employees out of work.
In a statement, Stellantis said the move was a “difficult but necessary action” as “our industry has been adversely affected by a multitude of factors like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the global microchip shortage.” However, the company said the “most impactful challenge is the increasing cost related to the electrification of the automotive market.”
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Employees will be laid off when production comes to an end and the company is “working to identify other opportunities to repurpose the Belvidere facility.” As a result, there’s no word on when or if the plant could resume production.
The move comes as a surprise and UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada slammed the decision. In a statement, she said “We are all deeply angered by Stellantis’ s decision to idle the Belvidere Assembly plant without a plan for future product.” She went on to say, “There are many vehicle platforms imported from other countries that could be built in Belvidere” and note the “transition to electrification also creates opportunities for new product.”
UAW President Ray Curry was more pointed in his criticism as he said, “We believe Stellantis is grossly misguided in idling this plant, which has produced profits for the company since 1965.” Curry went on to say, “Not allocating new product to plants like Belvidere is unacceptable” and he promised to “fight back against this announcement.”
While it remains unclear how far the UAW will take things, Jeep Cherokee sales have declined significantly in the past few years. The company sold 239,437 units in the United States as recently as 2018, but sales dropped to 191,397 units the following year. Between the coronavirus pandemic and chip crisis, sales fell to 89,126 units last year and the company has only sold 30,852 units through the first three quarters of 2022.
Despite the drop, Jeep’s Jim Morrison has previously suggested a next-generation Cherokee was in the works and would be “bigger and better than ever.” He also hinted the model would embrace electrification, but declined to say when the vehicle would arrive.