AUBURN HILLS, MI –Group LLC’s recently announced partnership with NASA is no moonshot, the auto maker’s senior vice president-engineering says.
“This is a very defined scope of projects,” Scott Kunsleman tells Ward’s of the 3-year alliance betweenand the nation’s space agency.
“To get into a relationship that was open-ended or not clear in terms of what the expectation was on payout would be inappropriate,” he adds, especially in Chrysler’s post-bankruptcy era of heightened fiscal responsibility.
Fittingly, Kunselman calls the joint activity an “exploration.” In announcing the agreement last month, Chrysler said areas of study include materials engineering, robotics, radar, battery systems and other energy-storage mediums.
Project teams have been assigned to various technologies, and each team includes a specialist from Chrysler and NASA. The auto maker says it already has gained insight into surface navigation sensors, but offers no detail.
However, Kunselman reveals he expects to see advancement in material-joining, validation techniques and light-weighting, a key factor in the auto industry’s push to comply with pending fuel-economy mandates.
But don’t expect major scientific breakthroughs, he suggests.
“We’re not inventing materials,” Kunselman says. “And quite honestly, neither is NASA in most cases. What we’re doing is looking at applications.
“When you’re building one vehicle that goes into space, you tend to have a different economic tradeoff vs. what we do. But in both cases, we’re typically looking for applying research – taking something and making it work in a given environment.”
Adds Kunselman: “The most obvious benefit is we have joint resources and we’re not redundant in doing work over again. So there’s efficiency for both of us, just in terms of the use of the research and development. And then there’s some insight and exposure that we both will likely get…to the other (party’s) technology.”
Chrysler and NASA are not strangers. During the 1960s, the space agency prevailed on the auto maker to build rockets for the seminal Mercury Project. Chrysler also built the boosters that powered the first two Apollo spacecraft into orbit.
Careful to low-ball consumer expectations, Kunselman throws water on the prospects for a next-generation rocket-powered Dodge Viper.
“We’re not producing a product jointly,” he says with a smile.