Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – Chrysler LLC literally is putting its product-development personnel in the driver’s seat with the establishment of a team tasked with generating new cockpit designs.

Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli was scheduled to make the revelation tonight in a keynote address at the SAE World Congress banquet. Chrysler distributed advance copies to select news organizations.

The establishment of a cockpit-development team would be the latest in a series of specialized projects initiated since Nardelli assumed command of Chrysler with the August acquisition by Cerberus Capital Management LP. Manned by a handpicked group of engineers numbering fewer than 100, “Project D” is mandated to develop a global platform Chrysler can use to support a range of D-size vehicles.

Then there is ENVI, a skunkworks-type operation tasked with developing advanced-propulsion technologies.

“In addition to ENVI, we are creating a similar dedicated team focused on the cockpit of the vehicle,” Nardelli says. “Not just the center stack, but the entire cockpit, including the infotainment and other consumer-driven features.”

Chrysler already is making strides in this direction. Next year will see the launch of a in-car communications system supplied by Hughes Telematics Inc.

Stung by critics who have slammed Chrysler interiors, the auto maker also has upgraded materials in flagship models such as the ’08 Chrysler 300 fullsize sedan and the coming ’09 Dodge Ram pickup.

Design Vice President Ralph Gilles, who has responsibility for color and trim, has said the auto maker will take a cue from the “expressive” interior features of its Chrysler Firepower concept car, which debuted in Detroit at the 2005 North American International Auto Show.

Says Nardelli: “Our goal is to make your vehicle the most ‘favorite room’ in your home. A room with all the comfort and available technology that goes along with it, like accessing the Internet and email or even downloading movies and music. You’ll even be able to make online purchases.

“Just think, you won’t need to look for a parking spot at the mall, because you can shop from your car as you drive by.”

emayne@wardsauto.com