Chrysler adding jobs, moving ahead in transmission fuel efficiency

By Rick Yencer

TIPTON, IN - The race to find more fuel efficiency and open a never used manufacturing plant by Chrysler could create hundreds of new jobs in central Indiana.

 Chrysler spokesman Jodi Tinson confirmed the auto giant would invest $162 million and hire 850 people in the central Indiana company by acquiring a transmission factory that was built but was never used. 

 Those transmissions will be the latest eight and nine speed models that get more mileage and fuel economy than standard four and five speed transmissions. And auto experts say Chrysler, that is building a new plant in Detroit and expanding operations in plants elsewhere in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, is leading Ford and General Motors in the design and production of higher speed transmissions. Chrysler, after taking on Fiat, an Italian partner, to move from bankruptcy, has been growing in market and sales during the last three years.

 Tinson would not confirm any expansion of Chrysler's operation in Kokomo where it has four plants and 5,000 workers. But incentives in the form of property tax abatement have been approved by Tipton and Kokomo local government that local officials point as a sign for promised new employment.

 Linda Williamson, interim economic development director in Tipton County, was 99 percent sure that Chrysler would expand its transmission operation in the factory along Ind. 31. The factory was abandoned by Chrysler before it was put in operation five years ago,  changed hands and then went on the market. Chrysler still has not bought the plant back, but Williamson said that deal was pending. It's expected machinery will be installed next year with a start up in 2014.

 Auto industry experts see Chrysler reinvesting and retooling for the next generation of high speed transmissions that could out perform GM and Ford.

 Bill Gaddis of Gaddis Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, said the company's new eight speed transmissions got up to 31 miles to the gallon and the newer models would get even better fuel efficiency.

 And as Gaddis knows, the more Chrysler employees working mean more Chrysler buyers and Chryslers on the road.

 Gaddis has been in business 38 years and was around when Muncie and Anderson were big auto towns. Those factories, including Chevrolet, Delco and Borg Warner, closed, leaving thousands of jobs lost, and gravel lots or empty buildings.

 The Chrysler expansion would have a positive impact for any parts maker or supplier in eastern Indiana, said Terry Murphy, vice president of economic development for the Muncie Delaware County Economic Development Alliance, And while companies continue to look at the old Borg Warner plant, there have been no signed leases, Murphy added.

 The new Chrysler plant west of Muncie also is the biggest American auto manufacturing development since GM built the huge truck and bus manufacturing plant in Fort Wayne nearly 30 years ago.Asian companies built a Honda plant near Greensburg and a Toyota facility at Princeton more recently.