months before we learn whether the 2015 Chrysler 200 midsize sedan
is the sales hit the automaker hopes for, but what we already know
sheds valuable light on how the newly created Fiat Chrysler
Automobiles develops vehicles.
I spent a
couple of days with members of the 200 team in Louisville last week,
driving through the rolling Kentucky countryside and learning about
the carís features and engineering. Iíll review the 200 when I
get enough seat time to know what itís like to live with the
latest from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Fiat took full
ownership of Chrysler on Jan. 1, but the 200 is the third Chrysler
Group vehicle to use an architecture based on the one Fiat developed
for the sporty little Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback. The first two
were the Dodge Dart compact sedan and Jeep Cherokee SUV.
pretty broad range of vehicles from a single architecture ó or
platform, the auto industryís other term for a set of underbody
components that can be used to make a variety of vehicles. The four
Fiat Chrysler vehiclesí wheelbases run from 103.7 inches (Giulietta)
to 108 (the 200). Their lengths stretch from the Giuliettaís 171.3
in. to the 200 at 192.3. Thatís on a par with the flexibility
Honda achieves with its Civic compact sedan, CR-V SUV, Accord
midsize sedan and Pilot large crossover.
stretch the architecture even farther, 200 chief engineer Doug
Verley told me over a plate of shrimp and grits in a gas station
that had been converted to a restaurant. He wonít say what the
limits are, but it can be used for vehicles at least a little bigger
or smaller than the current range.
The floor pan
and structural elements of the front third of the platform are
nearly identical for the Dart, Cherokee and 200. The lengths of
center and rear sections vary depending as needed from one vehicle
to another. The width of the vehiclesí floor pans can also vary
slightly ó the 200 is an inch wider than the Dart, for instance.
All three vehicles were developed for maximum commonality.
one way the whole company benefits," Verley said. "If I
need a unique part, can the other vehicles use it? We want the
smallest amount of difference possible."
That kind of
efficiency is key to Fiat Chrysler Automobilesí future. The merged
company must share the cost of engineering architectures, engines
and transmissions across the widest range of vehicles as possible.
What FCA has already demonstrated with the Giulietta-to-200 stretch
is a greater degree of engineering flexibility than most automakers
on commonality also means that any of the three plants currently
building the vehicles ó the 200 at Sterling Heights, Mich.;
Cherokee in Toledo, Ohio; and Dart in Belvidere, Ill. ó can
theoretically build any of them. That could come in handy if one
vehicle sells much better or worse than expected.
process requires more advance planning and foresight to set up the
necessary flexibility," Verley said.
The list of
features available on the 200 also benefits from sharing systems
with the Cherokee. The 200 will be the only midsize sedan that can
park itself automatically, because some Jeep customers expect
cutting-edge features like that. The innovative and fuel-efficient
all-wheel drive system also grew out of the Cherokee program.
great to have those things available for our customers thanks to the
Cherokee teamís work," Verley said.