Stellantis just announced that it will “idle” its Belvidere, Illinois, assembly plant which makes the Jeep Cherokee. That’s a typical move during model changeovers or reconfiguring plants for building new vehicles. What’s not normal is that with this announcement come “indefinite layoffs.” While Jeep won’t reveal its plans, it begs the question: Is this the end of the Cherokee?
What did Jeep say is the reason for idling the Cherokee plant?
Stellantis says that the reason for idling the plant is because of electric vehicle costs. Or rather, “increasing cost related to the electrification of the automobile.” Stopping production at Belvidere will “optimize operations” according to the company’s statement. It will stop production at the end of February.
The indefinite layoffs are expected to “exceed six months and may constitute a job loss under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.” But idling a plant is different from shuttering it. And Stellantis says it is “working to identify other opportunities to repurpose the Belvidere facility and has no additional details to share.” The Chicago Tribune says over 1,350 workers will be laid off.
When will Cherokee production end?
Simply, when you “repurpose” something, that means looking for a different purpose for its existence. It has no other meaning. So without saying they will look for something else to make at Belvidere, that is what this means. We say this to make clear that the Jeep Cherokee will not be manufactured there after February.
Now, maybe Jeep will consolidate production of the Cherokee at another plant. That is a possibility. But it is a slim possibility. It also might mean that at some point almost everything Jeep makes will become electric, and that also means eventually production will end for everything Jeep makes, with the Cherokee being the first. It could mean that but…
Looking at how the Cherokee has faired the last couple of years doesn’t paint a good picture. From a high of almost 240,000 sales in 2018, it has plunged to 89,000 in 2021. So far this year, which is almost over, it has tanked further. It is averaging around 3,500 sales a month. Projecting out, that amounts to 42,000, less than half of its sales in 2021. That’s not good.
The Cherokee has weathered a host of problems
Unfortunately, layoffs have been the norm at Belvidere for years, including earlier this year. Some of this revolves around the ongoing supply chain issues plaguing the industry over the last couple of years. Then there’s the whole debate about the use of the Cherokee name.
Indigenous people have objected to its use, embroiling Jeep in negative publicity for its use while it defends the name. It is just one more strike against the Cherokee among many, most of which are over its numbers falling off a cliff.
So at this point, the facts are the plant will be idled for longer than six months. But that doesn’t mean it’s closing – what’s on the horizon is anyone’s guess. The undercurrent could spell out the end of the line for the Jeep Cherokee. Will it become a thing of automotive past or will Jeep replace the Cherokee nameplate and revamp the plant for future use?