Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – The platform that emerges from Chrysler LLC’s pivotal “Project D” must have the flexibility to support a wide range of vehicles, the auto maker’s executive vice president-product development says.

“The goal is to service the global marketplace,” Frank Klegon tells Ward’s here at SAE World Congress. “What we have to decide is, is that one execution of one platform? I hope so. Because it’s all about volume.”

The vehicles based on Project D’s platform will be in the midsize segment, which is a “very, very challenging market to make money on,” Klegon adds.

And a program that does not portend significant margins is a non-starter for Chrysler.

Says Klegon: “You’ve got to be profitable.You’ve got to satisfy the customer. So you’d like to create a platform that doesn’t need a lot of changing to meet unique market requirements.

“You have to figure out a way that the basic architecture, the basic bones of the platform can be adjusted or tweaked, so you can get the variants.”

Project D itself has undergone considerable tweaking since it was announced in January. With last month’s exit of team leader Mike Donoughe, who left Chrysler, Mark Chernoby has taken charge.

Most recently, Chernoby had been vice president-core components, processes and international engineering. Jim Issner has left his advanced engineering post to assume Chernoby’s former duties, while ENVI Inc. President Lou Rhodes adds Issner’s former job to his role as developer of Chrysler’s advanced propulsion strategies.

All three executives have backgrounds related to their new assignments. Chernoby “slides in there very comfortably, and we didn’t skip a beat,” says Klegon, who quashes the widely reported notion that Project D is focused solely on car development.

It must achieve greater flexibility than Chrysler’s current D-segment platform, which supports the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring midsize car lines, as well as the all-new Dodge Journey cross/utility vehicle.

“The LX platform is a very versatile platform,” Klegon says, referring to the underpinnings of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger fullsize, rear-wheel-drive cars, as well as the pending Dodge Challenger lineup of muscle coupes.

“We haven’t done anything narrower or wider, yet, off it,” Klegon says. “But we’ve done a lot of things with different lengths and overhangs, different body styles and things like that. (With Project D), you’ve got to think everything form a 3-door hatchback to a tall crossover vehicle. Because that segment size is all over the world in different incarnations.”

Klegon, this year’s World Congress general chairman, uses the event to give a clearer view of other future Chrysler technologies. The market will see:

  • A backup-warning system that covers a driver’s lateral field of vision in the ’09 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans.
  • A radar-based blind-spot monitoring system to enable safer lane-changes, also on Chrysler’s ’09 minivans,
  • Enhanced voice-activated, hands-free phone capability on the ’09 minivans; 300; Charger; Sebring; Avenger; Journey; Jeep Patriot and Compass CUVs; Dodge Dakota and Ram pickups; Chrysler Aspen, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Commander, and Dodge Nitro and Dodge Durango SUVs.
  • Full iPod integration for the ’09 minivans; 300; Grand Cherokee, Commander, Compass, Patriot; and Dodge Challenger, Charger and Journey.

emayne@wardsauto.com