The platform for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta has been modified by Chrysler Group engineers—Dodge, Jeep and now Chrysler—to create vehicles that are not particularly Giulietta-like in their shape or size. There is the Dodge Dart. The Jeep Cherokee. And now the Chrysler 200.
The modified architecture is now known as “Compact U.S. Wide” (CUS-wide). Doug Verley, chief engineer for the Chrysler 200 (although in Chrysler-speak he is the “model responsible” for the Chrysler 200) says that the Giulietta’s underpinnings helped reduce the amount of engineering required for the 200; it helped accelerate time to market. In addition to which, he explains that he worked with his counterparts at Dodge and Jeep so that they are able to share some common parts, such as the front floor pan, center floor pan, and engine box load beams. This reduces costs for all three vehicles. While there is clear commonality, it should be noted that these are by no means cookie-cutter vehicles. Consider the dimensional differences between the donor car, the Giulietta, and the 2015 Chrysler 200:
In addition to which, Verley emphasizes that the suspension setup for the 200 is specific to the car, not shared with the other vehicles. This is not badge-engineering. This is clever engineering.
Tech in the Tech Center
The Chrysler Group World Headquarters & Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan, is more than a bunch of offices, cubicles, studios, and cafeterias. Yes, it is a place where Doug Verley and his team of engineers worked (before decamping in August 2013 to the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant to be involved in the launch of the new car). Yes, it is a place where Brandon Faurote and his design colleagues worked on the development of the car. Yes, it houses the processors where extensive computational fluid dynamics was performed to assure not only that the air flows appropriately outside of the vehicle, but inside through the HVAC system, as well.
One of the “mores” that the facility has is a full-size wind tunnel with a 12-blade, 26-ft. diameter fan that can generate wind speeds on the order of 150 mph. Verley says that the proximity of Engineering and Design and the wind tunnel was most helpful during the development of the 200. He says that they must have gone to the tunnel at least 50 times. Had the wind tunnel been across town (or even out of state), odds are that the amount of time spent checking the aero of the vehicle being developed would have been significantly reduced.
And their work paid off handsomely in terms of the car’s coefficient of drag. It’s 0.27. By way of comparison, the Chevy Volt, which was designed to be ultraslippery, has a Cd of 0.28. Lower is better.
About the Exterior
Brandon Faurote has had a career with Chrysler that’s ranged from working on concepts like the Chrysler Firepower (2005), the Dodge Demon (2007) and the Chrysler 200C concept (2009). He’s worked on production cars including the Fiat 500e (“A lot of aero work had to happen on that car,” he says) and the Chrysler 300. And the production version of the 2015 200.
The car that has probably had a bigger impact on the midsize car segment, where the 200 competes, than any other is the second-generation Ford Fusion.
The Fusion was unveiled at the 2012 North American International Auto Show.
Faurote and his team, who were hard at it for the 200, he admits, looked at it. But he adds, “We’re always benchmarking our competitors, both inside the class and outside of it.” The question arises: Did the Fusion have a big effect on the design of the 200? Did they have to go back and, in effect, erase any lines and add new ones?
Faurote answers that the 200 was “90% done” when the Fusion was unveiled. “Typically on cars,” he says, “you nail the front end design first. In this case, we nailed the rear end first. All the way up to the front axle was mostly finished, and we were working on the front end when the Fusion was introduced. We were happy to see that we were headed in the right direction, with a coupe-like look, and styling that is more progressive.”
In effect, there was validation by the competition.
Based on Icons
The Eames Lounge Chair was designed by Ray and Charles Eames and is produced by Herman Miller. It is an iconic chair. As in the chair, which hails from the mid-50s, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Yet it remains a chair that you can purchase and put in your own family room (or museum, should you have one around the house).
This is one of the influences that Klaus Busse, head of Interior Design for Chrysler, says had a huge effect on the interior design for the 200. He says of the car, “For us, this was all about American design. We made a promise three years ago, ‘Imported from Detroit.’ It had deeper meaning than just building the car in Detroit. It meant it had to fulfill the promise of being an American car with American design.”
So he cites the Eames Lounge Chair, pointing out that the wood structure is not hidden by a leather cover, but it is fundamental to the design: “The wood is not a decoration, but it is the structure of the chair.” And he points to the aluminum of the Airstream trailer and the wood of original Chris-Craft Boats.
The authentic material in all these cases is used in a functional way.
On the instrument panel, stretched in a curvilinear manner from the left side of the steering wheel, encompassing the available 7-in. color multiview display, the available 8.4-in. Uconnect touch- screen and the HVAC vents, and some controls is a large piece of formed, open pore wood. While wood in cars is nothing new or even unique, what is absolutely different about the use of the wood (and there are also pieces on each of the front doors, as well) is that it isn’t encased in layers of lacquer and the edges of the material are visible. No, you’re not going to get splinters, but it is clearly wood.
Busse describes it as “furniture grade.” (As he does the bearings used for the bin cover/arm rest in the center console, which moves with a deliberate glide.)
(Another “Imported from Detroit” cue: there is a center-mounted rotary e-shift for the nine-speed transmission instead of the conventional console shifter. This, Busse says, helped provide room for storage space where otherwise the mechanicals of the shifter would be. This open space can handle things like smartphones. There is a rubber mat on the surface. The mat has an embossed image of the skyline of Detroit. However, as one of the most notable parts of the skyline happens to be the headquarters of General Motors, that has been left out. There is something to be said for authenticity. There is also something to be said for not giving your competitors free space in your products.)
From Nearly Closed to World-Class
The Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (north of Detroit, but close enough to count for the “Imported from” line) has been around since 1953, when it opened as a jet engine manufacturing facility. It quite nearly closed in December 2010. Chrysler, having gone through bankruptcy in 2009, left the plant behind in its reorganized form. But the sales of the Dodge Avenger and the Chrysler Sebring picked up, so in March 2010, Chrysler reacquired the plant. On December 6, 2010, Sergio Marchionne announced that the company was mak- ing a nearly $850-million investment in SHAP (the acronym by which the plant is known within the company). The monies would be used for a 425,000-ft2 paint shop and new machinery, tooling, and material handling equipment. Production of the Avenger would continue, but the Sebring would give way to the first Chrysler 200, model year 2011.
And things have only gotten better at the plant, as there was an additional invest- ment, nearly $1-billion, for the production of 2015 200—as well as for future models, as the plant has the flexibility to produce any of the vehicles that are based on the Compact U.S. Wide platform.
Part of the investment was for a new body shop that was developed under a global standard jointly created by Chrysler and Fiat engineers. Flexibility, productivity, and quality are among the key objectives for the body shop, which makes extensive use of robotic automation. One interesting aspect of the robotic deployment is that it is based on an approach called “BRIC,” or “Basic Robot Integrated Configuration.” Essentially, this is a modular approach to robot installation, as the arm, control, and ancillary equipment come in as a unit.
To assure that closure panels are precisely located, four robots using measurement lasers measure the body shell when it enters the station; that information is then used to set the location of the decklid, doors, fenders, and hood. To assure that the front end module is precisely fitted for each car, that measurement data is used to guide the laser cutting of the ends of the front rails of the car so that the front end module has a precision mounting surface.
A $12.5-million metrology center in the plant—including coordinate measuring machines, Meisterbock gauge, and 3D laser scanners—are used to assure quality of everything from incoming parts to built cars.
Over in the paint shop, among the technologies deployed are a 180° rotating conveyor system that turns over a vehicle body so that underbody sealing and coating can be robotically performed (36 robots are used), taking advantage of gravity, and having the body positioned in such a way that operators have more ergonomically correct access to the work area should additional work be necessary.
Also, the paint shop’s final inspection line uses lights that automatically adjust both their color and intensity, based on the color of the car being inspected. This use of the uwe braun lights from OLIGO Lichttechnik GmbH is said to be the first North American deployment.
Not bad for a plant that was not all that long ago destined to be shuttered.