The-Benz AG/ Corp. merger has been touted as the auto industry's most advantageous linkup since front wheels were first connected to a steering wheel. While that's overstating the affair, there's no denying that each company brings assets the other lacked to this grandest-ever automotive joint venture. Consider this aggregate engineering menu:
Drivelines.has been a front-drive car company for two decades while Mercedes has emphasized rear-wheel drive from inception. In the light-truck category, both exploit state-of-the-art four-wheel-drive technology; New Venture Gear (a Chrysler- Corp. joint venture that's currently for sale) is a convenient source for innovative four-wheel-drive transfer-case technology. The long-rumored Mercedes minivan - now cancelled - could make excellent use of a Chrysler-built transaxle (or platform) and thus be revived. Availability of Mercedes' V-8 engine - today, Chrysler has no passenger-car V-8 - and rear-drive components could revive an Imperial flagship for Chrysler brand.
Mercedes offers 5-speed automatic transmissions, which Chrysler lacks. Chrysler's exclusive AutoStick blends automatic- and manual-transmission attributes; several of Mercedes' European rivals now employ some type of manual-automatic transmission. Mercedes currently has none, but there is a clutchless manual available for the A-Class.
Internal-combustion engines. Chrysler studied 2-strokes and Mercedes has led the pursuit of direct-injection (DI) diesel power for automobiles. Nearly all of each company's gasoline engines are state-of-the-art, aluminum-construction, multi-valve designs, although Chrysler is relatively new to the game. The combined inventory of powerplants runs the gamut from 4 to 12 cylinders and from 1.4L to 8L in size.
Alternative propulsion. Each partner has dabbled in all-electric or hybrid-electric demonstration vehicles that eventually may be suitable for public consumption. Mercedesowns 20% of Ballard Power Systems Inc., the Vancouver-based company devoted to fuel cell development. Mercedes and Chrysler engineers are developing hydrogen-fed fuel cells to drive electric vehicles; Mercedes has messed with hydrogen as a fuel since 1978. Through its USCAR (United States Council for Automotive Research) membership, Chrysler has shared in numerous hybrid-propulsion studies conducted by the Big Three.
Safety. Mercedes has been a world leader in active and passive safety systems since one of its engineers patented energy-absorbing unitized-body construction in 1952. It also pioneered antilock brake development, seat-belt pretensioners, the pop-up roll bar, side-impact air bags, "smart" baby seats, ultrasonic obstacle detectors, and other safety innovations.
The offset barrier crash test that's becoming a de facto safety standard around the world is the result of Mercedes initiatives aimed at distributing concentrated impact energy throughout the body structure. Recent rows between the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. and Chrysler over Cirrus-Stratus-Breeze seat-belt anchors and minivan door latches suggest that the Americans may have something to learn from their German comrades in the compliance area.
Exotic body construction. Chrysler's boutique of low-volume image models has afforded an excellent opportunity to dabble in exotic projects. Dodge Viper's hood is the auto industry's largest composite-plastic body panel. Plymouth Prowler's extruded frame members and body panels qualify it as the aluminum industry's poster model. Mercedes has not been a leader in light-weight or low-cost construction materials, so it could benefit from Chrysler's experience.
The Composite Concept Vehicle (CCV) demonstrated by Chrysler at last year's Frankfurt Auto Show may provide both partners with a means of slashing weight and cost for future products aimed at emerging markets. The CCV's four huge injection-molded, polyester-resin-based plastic pieces are joined with adhesives to create both the interior and the exterior of a car body.
Paperless engineering. Chrysler claims to be the first automaker in the world capable of synthesizing a complete car design solely with computer-aided design tools. The firm's CATIA (computer-aided three-dimensional interactive application) software links design, engineering, manufacturing, and supply disciplines into one concurrent development process, saving both time and cost, with trial-and-error experimentation largely eliminated.
Mercedes uses CATIA, too, which will prove to be expeditious in trans-Atlantic development - but Chrysler's computer-design expertise should prove beneficial in speeding fresh concepts into showrooms.
The grand hope is that the new DaimlerChrysler will exceed the sum of its parts. That in itself presents a giant challenge: successfully communicating a vast pool of wisdom over great distances and yawning cultural gaps.
- Don Sherman is a veteran automotive engineer/journalist.