Here's something you don't see every day: an automaker that's actually investing in the Midwest's industrial heartland. DaimlerChrysler (NYSE:DCX) disclosed Monday that it will spend $1 billion to upgrade two plants in Fenton, Mo.

Daimler's investment might seem like a Christmas miracle, what with all the slicing and dicing going on at General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F). But the investment has nothing to do with the supernatural. Daimler is able to take this step because, unlike the aforementioned auto manufacturers, sales at Chrysler, the U.S. wing of the company, are actually up this year by 5.4%.

The best result of Daimler's stellar performance vis-a-vis its rivals may be that it can practically dictate the terms of its investment. The company wrangled $32 million in incentives from Missouri and up to $46 million in tax abatements from the municipality in exchange for the outlay. More significantly, DaimlerChrysler doesn't appear to be guaranteeing any increase in jobs in exchange for the expenditure. Rather, the company is using the investment to implement some jarring changes for its workforce.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests that some of the changes in store for Fenton workers will involve the adoption of practices used at Daimler's Japanese rivals, Toyota (NYSE:TM) and Honda (NYSE:HMC).

For example, workers will now be organized in teams and perform multiple jobs, a change that some union members fear weakens job security and challenges the seniority system, which assigns positions based on the number of years on the job. In addition, Daimler will probably utilize more programmable robots. Together, these moves are expected to allow each plant to respond quickly to consumer demand and produce as many as four different models.

Again, DaimlerChrysler appears to be showing the way for its ragged U.S. rivals. First, the company concentrated on winning back market share by daring to introduce bold new models like the 300 and the Charger. Now, with a strong financial position in hand, the company is working on squeezing the most out of its labor force. It's hard to deny that DaimlerChrysler is on a roll.

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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.