According to reports, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles wants to build a vehicle customization facility just across the street from its Toledo Assembly Complex, where it builds the iconic Jeep Wrangler SUV, as well as the Jeep Gladiator pickup truck.
Per The Toledo Blade, the company plans to invest $23 million into the new facility to support its Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Gladiator production. The vehicle customization operation would be built on the grounds of the former Textileather and MedCorp properties in North Toledo.
FCA is proposing to build a 250,000-square-foot facility that will be operated by an outside supplier. It’s expected the new facility will employ more than 300 people and focus on making popular modifications to the Jeep Wrangler, and Jeep Gladiator all with factory backing. It could also mean deeper personalization possibilities, yielding Jeeps that resemble Moab Easter Safari concepts of years past, or more recent machines such as the Top Dog Concept, pictured below, or the Gladiator Far Out Concept, pictured above.
Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz announced a pending purchase agreement with FCA just prior to Christmas and said the legislation will be presented to Toledo City Council to authorize the sale and redevelopment of the land. According to The Toledo Blade, the proposal would see the administration sell the property to FCA for $1, “as an incentive for FCA’s proposed investment.”
FCA has agreed to provide the city with a conditional buy-back option. This would allow the city to re-purchase the property for $1 in the event that the property has not been transformed into a vehicle customization facility within four years.
In exchange for the reduced sale price, the city will implement a tax increment financing scheme for the property prior to the sale– this will allow any increase in property tax revenue due to redevelopment to be funneled back into public improvement funds. To date, the city has invested $6.8 million into the site.
While FCA hasn’t made an official announcement detailing its intentions with the customization facility, it’s clear that the company will dive deeper into personalization possibilities for the Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Gladiator.
The City of Toledo bought the Textileather site in 2014 for $738,000 and spent a further $1.6 million on demolition and environmental cleanup. It also purchased the former MedCorp property in 2014, for $1.37 million. Textileather Corp. manufactured vinyl fabric in North Toledo for the automotive industry until the facility was closed for good in 2009. The adjacent MedCorp property was used to build ambulances until shuttering in 2013.
For the past six years, city officials have been exploring ways to incentivize FCA to keep building the Jeep Wrangler in Toledo. Since 2014 its been known the Toledo Assembly Complex was effectively hemmed in with little room to expand, with the automaker even exploring the idea to relocate production of the iconic Jeep Wrangler.
Fortunately, the city has been able to cobble together a 40-acre site ready for development. For enthusiasts the proposed plan is exciting. Aftermarket providers have long viewed the Wrangler as a gold mine due to the fevered following the vehicle enjoys. If FCA can figure out a way to capture even a fraction of the millions of dollars that get spent annually on modifying its flagship product it would be a massive boon to the Jeep brand’s already healthy bottom line.
– By Michael Accardi