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Merger Payoff

Chrysler products finally benefit from family technology.

The merger of equals is finally paying dividends for the Chrysler brand. The Pacifica Sports Tourer and Crossfire sports car are not only incremental to the brand because they are unique additions to the line-up, they are also the first examples of the synergy that can be created between Chrysler and Mercedes. This synergy will not only create quality vehicles, but also help the company cut costs and bring new products to market much faster.

Vice President of Quality, Don Dees says that the synthesis between the partners is doing a lot to improve quality, something Chrysler feels that it desperately needs to compete in today’s market.

“We’re getting help from Mercedes,” Dees says, “Whether it’s how they run a test or how they design a component.”

About 18 months ago Chrysler formed 54 component teams, each in charge of a special part of the vehicle. These teams are charged with finding the best components in Chrysler’s line-up, relative to function, cost, weight and quality, make them bullet-proof and put them on the shelf. Product teams can then pull components off the shelf to use in their products.

“If you have those components developed and put on the shelf,” Dees says, “it will considerably reduce product cycle time. We’re seeing some of the results from this program already.”

Dees says that the next phase will be to repeat the process using the entire DaimlerChrysler family, including Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi. This will allow them to look at Europe, North America and Asia, building a truly global best of the best.

While only in its beginning stages, synergies like this one is paying off. Crossfire and Pacifica are the first in a long line of vehicles that will use components, technology and processes from both companies.

First Born
Chrysler says that Crossfire is truly the first ‘baby from the marriage’ — the best of both — German technology mated with American design, ingenuity and style.

Crossfire’s basic architecture is shared with the Mercedes SLK. Virtual modelling and several trips to Mercedes virtual driving simulator yielded a unibody structure that is as stiff as a Porsche.
When the decision was made to produce the awe-inspiring concept car, the team scoured both company’s catalogs in search of components that could help them meet their 24-month deadline. They found the answer in the Mercedes-Benz SLK. The proven rear-drive platform donated the floor-pan from the rear bulkhead forward as well as the firewall, engine cradle, front suspension and V-6 engine and transmission. About 39 percent of Crossfire is carried over from the Mercedes platform.

“Mercedes is one of the premier rearwheel- drive car builders in the world,” says Art Anderson, senior manager and project leader for Crossfire, “so it didn’t make a lot of sense for the Chrysler group to invent anything new.”

But Crossfire is more than just a posterchild for DaimlerChrysler hybridization, it’s an exercise in how to bring a vehicle to market in record time.

Crossfire is Chrysler’s first complete virtual program. Everything from initial design to crash testing and manufacturing feasibility studies were done in the computer.

If you look closely at the interior  you can see the spine running over the center of the shift knob.
Anderson says that by utilizing existing components, the vehicle’s hard points, like wheelbase and front and rear overhang were agreed on and frozen very early in the process. The decision was made at that point that they would go straight from the computer to production tooling.

“The first time we saw the interior was straight out of production tools,” Anderson says.

“It’s a unique strategy. We wanted to measure three times and build once.”

Anderson says that prototype tooling creates false positives and false negatives.

“When you go directly from the computer to production tooling,” Anderson says, “when you solve a problem, you’ve solved it.” The team relied heavily on the finite element modeling and analysis to define the structure and the suspension system. By utilizing Mercedes’ driving simulator in Berlin they were able to fine-tune the body and suspension by driving the car ‘virtually.’ Anderson says that the simulator can pack about three or four months of realworld testing into two to three weeks.

Once they were happy with the analysis, two mules were built for further suspension testing.

“In the end we had very few development cars,” says Anderson, “but the few we had were very representative. If a problem was found in a development car we knew it was a real problem. There was no ‘we’ll wait and see what we get in the production car’.” The all-steel unibody is sports car stiff. “We went to a lot of trouble to get all of the joints really connected well together,” says Anderson.

Crossfire measures 15,000 ft-lbs per degree and 52 hz natural frequency. That’s twice as stiff as a Porsche Boxster and stiffer than a Porsche 911. Anderson says that the solid structure allowed for accurate control of the suspension geometry.

The boat-tailed design of the original car had to be massaged to fit over the production unibody, but designers managed to keep most of the intricate design cues. The side strakes and grooved hood remain, as does the distinctive spine that runs from the front of the car across the dash, down the console and over the center of the shift knob.

“There are some difficult panels on the outside of the car,” says Anderson. The rear quarter panel is one piece, running from the base of the a-pillar all the way to the rear light pocket. The panel has a 50 mm draw (about 2 feet) and requires six hits in the press. There was some discussion of going to a brazed two-piece panel, but virtual analysis proved that it could be done as one piece. The door panel with the ‘X’ (hence the name Crossfire) has to be right on the spot and air relief had to be put in the dies to let them close correctly and not float the panel to get the spine in the center of the roof. The decision to have German manufacturer Karmann build the 20,000 vehicles annually weighed heavily on their stamping expertise.

Crossfire uses the same 3.2L, 215 hp aluminum V-6 found in the Mercedes SLK. “Obviously at the volumes we’re talking about,” says Anderson, “it would be nearly impossible to do an all new engine.” A six-speed manual or five-speed automatic are the transmission choices.

The engine software has been adjusted for emissions calibration and to interface with the automatic transmission. The transmission has unique software to tailor performance. The interior is clean and very Mercedes-like. The rich leather and brushed metal surfaces pay close homage to the original concept. The steering column comes from the Mercedes C-Class and the interior, side sills and front and rear fascias are all made by Peguform.

The project team designed and created all of the interior’s first surfaces and the design intent, then worked with suppliers on die feasibility on how to make all of the attachments points.

Unlike usual programs, suppliers weren’t asked to do third party design. “We were right in the middle of it,” Anderson adds, “making sure we hit the objectives and the strategies that we adopted very early.”

Anderson is happy with the real results of this virtual project.

“This is one of the first ones for us. We’re going to take everything we’ve learned on this one and apply it to all the other products throughout the whole company.”

Segment Buster
While Crossfire is a low-volume, image building sports car, Pacifica is a high-volume family mover.

Clever stying cues make Pacifica look lower and sleeker than it is. In real life it’s just 2.5 inches shorter than a Chrysler Town and Country minivan.
“It’s a totally new vehicle in a segment that doesn’t exist yet,” says Mike Donoughe, vice president family product team. “We’re calling it a Sports Tourer.”

Call it whatever you want, just don’t call it a station wagon.

Chrysler says that Pacifica’s target customers are empty nesters who like the utility of a minivan but don’t need all of the space and young affluent families with one or two kids.

The second group makes up a large part of the estimated 2.7 million annual buyers who are driving the emerging crossover segment.

Like Chrysler did 20 years ago with the original minivan, they’re hoping that Pacifica will be the definitive vehicle in this new emerging segment.

Whether or not Pacifica defines a new segment it does define the new direction Chrysler is taking in design, manufacturing and quality.

While Chrysler says that development of the vehicle took a year-and-a-half, Glenn Abbott, senior designer for the Pacifica, says that ideas started two years before that. “Initially, we took a minivan and tried to make it look like an SUV,” Abbott says. “That concept never got past the two-dimensional phase. The minivan platform was too compromising to some of our objectives.”

A large sedan with a raised roof was also nixed.

“The large sedan chassis had too much front overhang, messing with the front proportions,” he says.

A third shot was a build-up on an SUV chassis and while designers weren’t too keen on that result either, they did take a liking to the big wheels and tires and aggressive looking front end.

In the end, the decision was made to start with a completely new platform.

Pacifica will be built at the Windsor, Ontario, Canada assembly plant along side the minivan. Pacifica’s platform shares principle locating points with the current minivan allowing the two vehicles to share much of the same assembly processes. Chrysler has invested in a new subassembly line for Pacifica to weld engine box, underbody sub-assembly and body sides. Both vehicles share the same body final line, paint, final assembly, trim and chassis final, where the 3.5L V-6 (shared with the 300M) is sequenced in among the three engine options on the minivan. The vehicles can be built at a rate of two Pacificas for every five minivans and don’t have to be batched. The mix can flow from zero up to 40 percent Pacifica, which equals a maximum of 120,000 yearly. Projected yearly volume is 100,000 units.

Pacifica’s interior (left) mimicks luxury sedans (note the analog clock in the IP). The Densosupplied navigation system has the screen mounted inside the speedometer.

This clandestine shot (photographed in a mirror) shows the 5- link rear suspension modelled after the Mercedes E-Class.
The body shop uses programmable robots with fixed tooling. This flexibility will allow for other body styles to be added to the same line. While the two vehicles share no black metal, Chrysler tried to commonize as much as possible on things like fasteners and other non valueadded complexity. The vehicles also share common electrical architecture, the things Chrysler calls ‘customer digital,’ the customer doesn’t care where it comes from as long as it works. The five-link rear suspension is based the Mercedes E-Class. While there are no shared parts, the over-all geometry is the same. Like the Crossfire, the Pacifica team utilized the Mercedes virtual driving simulator in Berlin, to help them sort through several different concepts very quickly and cheaply, eliminating the ones that didn’t meet requirements before any metal was cut. During simulator testing they also discovered that under a moderate-to-heavy load situation, dynamic stability was becoming compromised. When there was a full passenger or full-cargo load the vehicle would slump in the back. Engineers installed a self-leveling air shock system that improves handling under load. To help improve quality, refinement teams were developed. These teams closely monitored exterior and interior fit and finish, seat comfort and interior functionality, switch slickness, powertrain slickness and NVH.

One of the things that Chrysler engineers have learned from Mercedes is the sophisticated integration of the vehicle systems, getting them to work with each other and harmonize with each other. That’s something that Chrysler never practiced.

Pacifica’s exterior proportions are deceiving. The black lower body panels and roofline disguise the high beltline and make the car look shorter and sleeker than it really is. Pacifica is nearly as long and wide as a Town and Country minivan, and just two-and-a-half inches shorter. The vehicle sits firmly on 17- inch wheels and tires, and the 66-inch track gives it a solid well-planted stance. The front end wears the now-familiar Chrysler badge that spans the grille, and the taillight design is borrowed from the 300M to add to the sports sedan look.

Pacifica’s high belt-line offers a feeling of security on the inside that you don’t get from most sedans or SUVs. The cockpit-style interior is lifted right out of a sports sedan. The instrument cluster wraps around the driver and flows into a center console that extends between the second row of seats. Pacifica seats four in comfort and six when necessary. The first and second row offer first-class seating. A 10-way adjustable power driver’s seat is linked to a memory system that can be controlled by the key fob. It will also adjust the mirrors, steering wheel and adjustable pedals, programmable for two drivers. The second row seats recline and an option package will heat all four seats. The 60/40 split third row is accessible by fold and tumble second row seats.

Pacifica is loaded with the kind of options you’d expect to find on luxury segment vehicles. The DVD-based navigation system has a full-color 5-inch LCD screen located in the center of the IP cluster. There’s a choice of two audio systems that are set up for XM satellite radio — a $12.95 a month dealer-installed option. For the back seat kiddies there’s an optional DVD entertainment package. With $1,000 you get a 7-inch LCD screen, 6-disc CD/DVD changer, two sets of wireless headphones and a remote.

For those with Bluetooth enabled cell phones, the UConnect system allows for hands-free usage. Just press a button on the rearview mirror, and you’re good to go. The factory installed option is available this summer. Pacifica comes standard with front-wheel drive and a 3.5L V-6 that makes 250 hp at 6,400 rpm and 250 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3,950 rpm. An optional all-wheel drive system, based on the one in the Town and Country, can send up to 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels. An electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission comes standard with auto-stick. Front and rear suspensions attach to fully-isolated hydro-formed steel sub frames. Pacifica comes with standard ABS and a pressure-based tire pressure monitoring system, three-stage driver and passenger airbags and a full side curtain airbag system.

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Fri. July 19th, 2024

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