Jeep will deal a serious blow to the aftermarket by opening a customization facility near its factory in Toledo, Ohio. It's investing $23 million into the site, and it hopes selling turn-key modified 4x4s will create over 300 jobs.
Instead of starting from scratch, Jeep is redeveloping properties formerly occupied by vinyl manufacturer Textileather and ambulance service provider MedCorp, according to the Toledo Blade. These companies closed in 2009 and in 2013, respectively, laying off hundreds of workers. Jeep is paying $1 for the site, and it plans to build a 250,000-square-foot facility on it. The new unit will be operated by a supplier whose name hasn't been revealed. Mopar, the in-house tuner for Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) brands, might be its mysterious partner.
Similarly, we don't know exactly what Jeep plans to build. Bruce Baumhower, the president of the UAW local which represents workers at the company's Toledo plant, told the Blade that future customization options will include "bigger tires, bigger roll bars, different lights, customized running boards, and logo or customized paint jobs." It sounds like Jeep wants to give buyers the option of ordering an off-roader similar to the ones it sends to the annual Easter Safari without building it themselves, piece by piece, or going through an independent tuner.
Enthusiast website Muscle Cars & Trucks points out the Wrangler and the Gladiator will very likely be at the heart of the project. They're the Jeep models that are most often customized — finding a Wrangler that's 100% stock is easier said than done — and they're both manufactured in Toledo. In contrast, cars like the Cherokee and the Renegade are often left stock, and they're made in Illinois and Turin, Italy, respectively. Nothing suggests the site will exclusively cater to buyers in the market for a Wrangler or a Gladiator, however, and we suspect Jeep wouldn't be against the idea of building, say, a customized Grand Wagoneer if buyers are willing to pay for it.
Additional details about the site and the program will emerge in the coming months. Jeep confirmed the purchase but provided no additional details, so we don't know when the facility will be inaugurated.
Toledo officials spent about $3.7 million buying and cleaning up the former Textileather and MedCorp sites. They explained that they chose to sell the site for $1 to encourage Jeep to keep its operations local. The sale includes a buy-back clause that gives the city the option of repurchasing the property for $1 if Jeep doesn't develop it, and it still needs to be approved by the Toledo City Council, though that's more of a formality than a challenge.