DETROIT (Nov. 2, 3:55 p.m. ET) — Chrysler Group LLC was just recovering from the double blow of the 2008 recession and its own bankruptcy when it was faced with some hard facts about its future products.
The Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker knew it needed to upgrade key vehicles, including its midsize sedans, but it had only a fraction of the normal development time to develop interiors for those cars.
But working closely with supplier Faurecia SA, Chrysler developed new interiors its Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger 2011 model year sedans, and now has won the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers' Vehicle Engineering Team Award.
The VETA is part of the division's annual Innovation Awards, which will be presented during a Nov. 9 event in Livonia, Mich. SPE also named the winner for the awards' Hall of Fame entry, the composite “SuperPlug” door hardware module, which debuted on General Motors Co. vehicles in 1997.
Chrysler's work on the Avenger and 200 sedans marks one of the speediest turnarounds for a North American vehicle in recent history. The previous generation of the sedans took 30 months to develop, SPE noted in a Nov. 1 news release. The 2011 models launched in a record 54 weeks.
To accomplish the rapid pace, Chrysler co-located one of its stylists at Faurecia's North American operations in Auburn Hills and the supplier and carmaker had daily “war room” huddles to keep the project on pace.
SPE cited three key factors for the success – Chrysler's development of a craftsmanship benchmarking report for interiors, their use of Faurecia's methodology for quality checks and using carryover components such as a common cross-car beam, instrument panel retainer and knee bolster when possible in addition to creating new Class A surfaces.
The team also committed to specific deadlines to lock in material and tooling choices, allowing no last-minute tweaks that would often delay the process. Chrysler and Faurecia also sourced critical tooling locally and used in-mold graining available with nickel shell tool technology.
The award for the “SuperPlug” module recognizes the first all-plastic integrated door hardware carrier. First used on the Chevrolet Venture and Malibu, Pontiac Transport, Oldsmobile Silhouette and Cutlass and Opel Sintra from GM, the carrier reduced the number of components and fasteners needed on a carrier by 75 percent by molding those connections into a single gas-assist injection molded frame.
The frame “plugged into” the inner door on the vehicle assembly line, which gave the part its name and improved ergonomics and quality and cut labor costs.
Since then, the auto industry has produced an estimated 250 million integrated composite modules.
“At an average of 5 pounds of plastic per module, that's over a billion pounds of resin consumed in just this one automotive application,” said Nippani Rao, president of consulting group Rao & Associates and co-chair of the SPE Hall of Fame committee.
The then-GM owned parts group Delphi — a unit that is now part of Inteva Products LLC — and GE Plastics (now Sabic Innovative Plastics) developed the part. GE developed a grade of its Xenoy polycarbonate/PBT resin specifically for the carrier.
The Hall of Fame recognizes parts that have been in continuous service for at least 15 years and which the industry has widely adopted for use in other products.