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A decade of success: Heads of Stellantis powertrain, transmission reflect on past 10 years as company enters new decade

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As Stellantis, formerly FCA, enters a new decade as a new company, leaders at the city’s largest employer reflected on the past decade, which was packed with everything from the opening of a new plant and healthcare clinic to overcoming two tornadoes and a pandemic.

From 2010 to 2020, a lot of changes and challenges surfaced, but Brad Clark and David Dukes, heads of Powertrain and Transmission Operations, respectively, said the challenges the workforce faced head-on and the goals they accomplished were a testament to the dedication of the people who make Stellantis work.

“As we closed 2020, I reflected back on the last decade for Kokomo and the operations here,” Clark said. “And I would say that it was probably the best decade that we’ve ever had. And I say that with all of the accomplishments that we had in the division here. We began the decade with Fiat Chrysler in 2009 and 2010, and we’re part of a new organization coming out of that time.

“I think about the ITPII (Indiana Transmission Plant II) plant and the work that we accomplished there. Then to think at the end of the decade, we’re going to build a new engine plant there, and what a change that has made.”

The decade came with milestones being hit. Kokomo Transmission Plant, Indiana Transmission Plant, and Kokomo Casting Plant manufactured the world’s first nine-speed transmission in Kokomo and launched an expansion on the manufacturing of the eight-speed transmission. Four-and-a-half million eight-speeds were produced in a decade.

Similarly, KCP began manufacturing engine blocks for the first time, including the Ferrari engine block, which still is made today in Kokomo.

South of Kokomo, Tipton Transmission Plant was launched in April 2014, which brought the area into the hybrid world, alongside the nine-speed transmission.

For Dukes, the decade represented a host of successes and challenges, including the tornadoes of 2013 and 2016 and the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. How the workforce handled an unprecedented pandemic, Dukes said, was especially remarkable.

“What I was so proud of, in this very large facility (KTP), over 3 million square feet, was the professionalism of the entire workforce. We have never had to shut this place down on such a short notice, and they did it very methodically, following our standards. They went out in a very calm way, which maintained the quality of our product during the time period that we were out.

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“But what I’ll say was just as impressive, if not more impressive, was when we came back to work, following the protocols and the way the teams had united, and we brought the plant back up,” he said. “And we quickly started hitting our performance numbers, and they continued to improve month after month.”

Through everything, the plants never lost any production, he said.

The past decade saw a decade of growth internally as well. The World Class Manufacturing Academy, which offers local employees specialized training, launched in March 2017.

Likewise, a health clinic for employees opened in July 2018, powered by Ascension St. Vincent, making it easier for employees and their families to receive healthcare. As a whole, the clinic, located at 1765 E. Lincoln Road, services around 12,500 people. Stellantis was the first domestic automaker to launch such a facility.

The company also had a big impact on the community over the past decade. The facilities have continued to partner with Purdue Polytechnic and IU Kokomo to build pathways for employment, and the unions have given back in countless ways.

“I would say, for me, the products are one thing, but I’m most proud of when our team impacts or can influence the community in a good way,” Clark said. “Whether that’s through the United Way or with our Womens’ Leadership group or at the grade schools or middle schools or high schools or the colleges. We can make products, but for me, I am most proud that we are truly good to the community in a way over and above just the investment.”

In late January, FCA and Groupe PSA merged to form Stellantis, making it the fourth-biggest automaker in the world.

In a press conference detailing the merger, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares announced the company would be launching 10 new models with electrified powertrains in 2021, including battery-powered vehicles and hybrids.

Going into 2021, Stellantis employs 7,310 people in the area.