Chrysler Group will spend $500 million next year on a new body shop and assembly line upgrades at its plants in St. Louis as part of a 4-year investment that could exceed $1 billion.

The largest share of Chrysler's investment will benefit St. Louis South Assembly, which currently builds variations of Chrysler and Dodge minivans, in the form of a new body shop capable of building products on three platforms simultaneously.

The investment coincides with the expected launch in 2007 of Chrysler's next-generation “RT” minivans, expected to be complete by the end of 2006.

Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president-manufacturing, is mum on a Ward's report that Chrysler has a pending agreement to build minivans here for Volkswagen AG.

Ward's has learned the tooling destined for St. Louis South also will accommodate production of Chrysler minivans for the export market.

The remainder of Chrysler's investment, announced Dec. 12, will benefit St. Louis North Assembly in the form of tooling that will provide greater manufacturing flexibility and accommodate production of an additional product, possibly a Class 4, 5 or 6 commercial truck.

St. Louis North builds Dodge Ram pickups. It will remain dedicated to production of body-on-frame vehicles, Ewasyshyn says, while St. Louis South will focus on unibody designs.

Ultimately, market demand will determine how much money Chrysler spends at St. Louis after 2006, a Chrysler spokesman says.