Monday, March 24, 2008

Chrysler: Innovations ' R ' Us

In an attempt to prod some good - news reporting out of us automedia types, Chrysler LLC held a unique technology press event at its Auburn Hills Tech Center attended by not only the product development EVP Frank Klegon and several of his direct - report veeps, but also president Tom LaSorda, vice chairman Jim Press, and his boss Bob Nardelli.

The hourly value of the gathered talent on this one afternoon probably would ' ve paid for a 30 - second spot on " Late Night " with Letterman, but it would ' ve just been TiVo ' d out anyway. We were introduced to and allowed to experience several announced and pending product innovations the brass assert will help keep Chrysler operating on the industry ' s leading edge even as the company ' s headcount shrinks.

During a design - dome walkaround with engineers presenting key new technologies, Bob Nardelli made a point of interjecting pointed " questions, " designed to illuminate key advantages vis - - vis key competitors and perhaps to let us know that he ' s fully transitioned from lumber - drywall - plumbing - guy to car - guy. During the pointed Q&A session that followed, he acknowledged that the redundancies removed during the integration with Daimler left some holes at Chrysler LLC, but he assured the gathered crowd that the company is restoring those deemed mission critical, while employing joint ventures ( like the 2 - mode Hybrid system developed with GM, which rolls out soon on the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen ), alliances, and partnerships to cover others. Battery development is an area ripe for partnership, said Frank Klegon, and one in which some intriguing non - traditional players have expressed keen interest in teaming with a private firm like Chrysler. Jim Press suggested the product lineup may still be a smidge top - heavy in the SUV realm and light on small efficient cars, and that future product planning efforts will seek to spread the limited number of nameplates Chrysler can afford to market across a broader spectrum of the market to improve overall reach.
Dodge Charger

Knowledge - Based Engineering
The tech presentation led off with a new computer - engineering aid credited with compressing the Challenger ' s development time to just 21 months and allowing it to beat the Camaro to market. The proprietary software, developed in - house, is programmed with all the engineering knowledge and best - practices information gathered in previous development programs. Starting with a completely digitized Dodge Charger, the software " morphed " the chassis into a shortened two - door Challenger, redesigning every part that needed to change. The model broke the car up into 800, 000 elements with about five million degrees of freedom, and then ran crash tests involving about a trillion calculations each. Each test took only a matter of hours, each iteration of the test contributed to the " knowledge base, " and by the time the first prototype parts came out of the tools ( made directly from computer data ), the car met all crash standards. Not only that, but the assembly process was known and all the parts fit together, because the computer automatically checks the new parts for fit, welding, and assembly access, etc. Most of the aerodynamic analysis was done before the first full - size clay was available, enabling the 25 - percent improvement in drag compared with the 1970 Challenger it so closely resembles. Mr. Nardelli swears KBE won ' t be used to further reduce engineering head - count, but clearly it allows the company to do more with less and / or do it faster.

Bob Nardelli says Chrysler needs to " make the vehicle your favorite room in the house. " Toward that end, the first - ever application of Sirius Back - Seat TV will be augmented this fall with larger nine - inch screens ( up an inch ), and the rearmost one will be able to swivel to face forward so that middle - row Swivel - N - Go seat occupants can see it. Don ' t worry, the image shows only when the middle screen is deployed to block the driver ' s view of it through the rearview mirror. And if the satellite TV, DVDs, MyGig - stored videos, and game consoles fail to entertain the passengers, surely Internet connectivity will do the trick. Yes, starting this fall, Mopar will have a kit that can retrofit most any vehicle to provide 150 - kilobits - per - second Internet access via 3G cellular broadband network ( just like a wireless modem card for your laptop ). It connects to a WiFi antenna turning your vehicle into a wireless hotspot. There will also be a USB antenna you can plug into your MyGig stereo, allowing you to beam content from your home computer or laptop to the stereo / nav system either from this new system or via your home WiFi network. The system promises to be forward compatible as 4G wireless broadband systems like WiMAX, UMB, or LTE become available. It also can allow your dealer to do remote health checkups on your car, enabling many of the services OnStar provides without the capital and labor - intensive infrastructure. And onboard wireless should free up the parking wireless mooches are taking up in front of Starbucks.

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