Special Coverage

Convergence

DETROIT – Amid fears of an impending global economic meltdown, some auto executives say their companies have curtailed product-development budgets dedicated to advanced electronic features.

“Discussions (to delay certain programs) are ongoing. Portfolio adjustments are part of the business,” Chris Thibodeau, director-global technology engineering for General Motors Corp.’s Electrical/Electronics Products Group, says at the Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference here.

Although electronics have enabled a fascinating range of new functionality within vehicles, Thibodeau says GM’s top priorities are to improve quality and fuel economy.

“We are looking at total cost and finding the right solutions for us,” he says. “GM will continue to develop and bring solutions forward.”

Another GM priority is the late-2010 production launch of the Chevrolet Volt, an extended-range electric vehicle that will enable daily commutes of up to 40 miles (64 km) on pure electric power with the help of a 16 kWh, lithium-ion battery pack composed of 220 individual cells. A gasoline engine is on board to power a generator for longer commutes.

In comparison, panelist Gunter Reichert, vice president-driver assistance for BMW AG’s body electrical/electronics and electronic networks group, says the German auto maker “won’t delay any projects,” because of the current economic backdrop.

He says BMW will continue to depend on suppliers that have a “willingness to invest in innovation.”

Although budgets are more scrutinized at Chrysler LLC, especially amid speculation about a merger with GM, the Auburn Hills, MI, auto maker isn’t close to pulling the plug on its ENVI electric-car program.

“Budgets are tightened and we need to be highly concentrated,” says Andreas Schell, vice president-electrical/electronics for Chrysler’s engineering core group. “We need to minimize work on specialties. This is a time when the economy is down.”

ENVI is a separate engineering group created to develop electric-drive production vehicles and advanced-propulsion technologies. The group unveiled three EV concepts Sept. 23, and one of them is expected to be in production by 2010.

dstark@wardsauto.com