DaimlerChrysler AG is ready to put its injection molded Jeep Wrangler hardtops into the public's hands. The automaker confirmed Feb. 22 it will make about 5,000 of the 2001-model Jeeps with the hardtops produced at Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd.'s Detroit Technical Center operation.
Production is slated to begin Oct. 1, said Larry Oswald, director of advanced body engineering for DaimlerChrysler's Liberty & Technical Affairs.
"We still have testing to do, but everything so far is looking good," Oswald said.
The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based company has placed about 100 hardtops so far for use on test and corporate fleet vehicles. It said last year it was considering them for 2001 Wranglers, if the prototypes looked good.
Barring any complications this summer, DaimlerChrysler will produce all of its white hardtops on Husky's one-of-a-kind press. It will continue turning out black and tan hardtops with sheet molding compound.
The injection press at Husky's Novi, Mich., technical center has a clamping force of 8,800 tons and can mold 145 pounds of thermoplastic resin in a single shot.
The Husky press made the first injection molded hardtops in November. By the time they reach consumers' hands this fall, those early examples will have gone through nearly a year of on-the-street use in test vehicles.
"We wanted to go through one winter and one summer cycle with them," Oswald said.
DaimlerChrysler and Husky are part of the "large injection molded body panel team" developing the project along with Concord, Ontario-based injection molder Decoma International Inc. and Montell Polyolefins Inc. of Wilmington, Del.
"Everything is a partnership," said Doug Mosier, advanced program manager for Montell, which has supplied resin for the program. "You've got a very committed team and we're making some substantial gains."
The project has used Montell's Hivalloy resin, a styrene-based olefin material, but Mosier noted the company does not yet have a written agreement for the Jeep project.
At full capacity, the giant press could turn out more than 200,000 hardtops per year, Oswald said. But the site is not intended for full production. The building is zoned for light industrial use, not manufacturing. Instead, DaimlerChrysler will use the Wrangler project to continue its studies into the potential of a plastic-bodied car with the Husky operation.
Last week DaimlerChrysler also rolled out its latest composite concept car, the Dodge ESX3, a 2,250-pound vehicle with a body made from thermoplastics and aluminum.
The car averages 72 miles per gallon of fuel with its electric hybrid engine, seats five people and would cost consumers about $28,500 — about $7,500 more than a comparable Dodge Intrepid. An earlier version introduced in 1998, the ESX2, would have cost about $15,000 more than an Intrepid.
The 12-piece composite body will stand up to all federal crash standards, weighs 46 percent less than a traditional metal body and costs 15 percent less to manufacture, the company stated.
The automaker has no time line for putting the ESX3 or any similar car on the road.
"These vehicles are created for us to experiment with the technology," Oswald said.
The Wrangler hardtops also will provide the company with real-life responses to its injection molding tests.
"We can't anticipate every problem from a testing point of view," Oswald said. "They have so many things that happen to them each day out on the road."
Consumers probably will not realize they are driving a Wrangler with a cutting-edge top. The injection molded roof, although produced in two pieces, will have replicated seam marks at the same site the five-piece SMC hardtops now have.
"We're putting in seams for styling purposes," Oswald said. "I can see the difference, but you have to really look at them."