Chrysler Technical Center (CTC) and Auburn Hills Complex
The Auburn Hills Complex is usually called the Chrysler Technical Center (“CTC”), though technically only one part of the building qualifies for that name. The rest is the executive tower, which, in 2005, housed over 1,100 people.
As of October 2013, Chrysler claimed that 14,200 employees and suppliers worked on their campus; the main building had 5.4 million square feet of space, making it the second largest building in America (after the Pentagon).
When it first opened, before the executive tower was added, it had a first story lab level and three stories of office space, with a 1.8 mile evaluation road, noise/vibration facility, electromagnetic compatibility center, environmental test center, and 3/8 model wind tunnel with thermal testing capability. A 57,000 square foot training center was part of the site, complete with teleconferencing center and fitness center (later bolstered to 70,000 square feet).
The Chrysler Technical Center held over 8,400 employees in 2005. The complex also includes a 170,000 square foot pilot production plant, scientific test facilities, a powertrain testing center, full-size wind tunnel and a vehicle evaluation road. At any given time during the day, according to our sources, cars not yet shown to the public can be seen quietly driving through the basement; trash bins may contain secret prototype engines waiting to be recycled. Massive outdoor tanks hold water and fuel.
The company has continued to invest in the building, with a new $37.5 million aero-acoustic wind tunnel being added around 2010-13.
Reportedly, the building was originally supposed to house the technical staff only — providing a major competitive advantage by consolidating all the engineers, moving them away from the disruptions of managers, and assuring better communication between departments. The CTC was one of the keys to moving Chrysler from the old silo system to a new team system, where engineers would work together across disciplines to make the best possible cars and trucks. The system worked well until 1998 or so.
The testing center, where the new test cells are, is particularly cleverly designed. While the old engine test cells (one of which is displayed in the museum, which is part of the complex) had minimal safety and automation features, the current test cells are highly automated, very safe, and even have their own foundation, separate from the rest of the building, to avoid passing along vibration to the rest of the complex.
Many have described the interior of the CTC as being like a huge, glitzy shopping mall. The main hallway is lined with glass, so you can see into various offices; large numbers of vendors wait in the lobby to be admitted. Everything is huge: the parking decks, the roads around the complex, the atrium, the hallways.
The interior design was dramatically changed from the original blueprints, by a team including Chris Theodore, to match Chrysler’s new cross-functional teams approach and to increase its usefulness as a testing center, before engineers moved in:
We took a look at the plans, and it was funny, but not in a good way. They laid it out just like Highland Park only without the little alleys in between the buildings. We couldn’t change the basic crucifix design, the crucifix. The floors were designed for pedestrians, but the second, third and fourth floors couldn’t hold the weight of a car. There were no garage doors to get cars in and out at the ground floor level. Again, it was John Miller, myself [Chris Theodore], and Dick Terrigian. We were charged with working on and planning the move to CTC. We had to finalize the plans and schedule the move-ins.
That’s when we came up with the idea of using the crucifix, putting one platform team over the other, aligning body engineering over body engineering, etc. Setting up a team-centered core where each platform team could have finance, purchasing, manufacturing, planning and engineering all working together as a team -and, of course, making all the laboratories useable.
We were very proud of the way that was arranged. We did have an influence on making it work and I think it’s one of the best facilities in the world. The only bad part of the facility -the honest to God truth - is all the executives in Highland Park at the six story building. They got lonely down there and they got jealous. So they decided, Bob Eaton and company, that they had to move to CTC.
They built that stupid tower which undid, in a way, everything that we tried to set up regarding cooperation and team work. It sent the wrong signal. And thank God, Marchionne doesn’t even go in that building. He’s back where he should be — in the center of CTC — where all the functions should be working together as a team. So throw the damn tower away. I’m pretty proud of the rest of CTC.
Hidden away out of the mainstream is a test factory, like the “Checkerboard Square” set up at Belvidere. This area lets the manufacturing engineers figure out the ergonomics and technical issues surrounding construction of new cars in advance, at a much lower cost than planning it out on computer models, building, and then moving things around as needed. It lets Chrysler get over manufacturing hurdles before ordering tooling, and before shutting down a factory for changeover to a new model.
The Chrysler Technical Center remains a strategic asset to the company; its extensive testing centers, all-under-one-roof elements, and other components all help Chrysler engineers to do more with less.
Wildlife at the CTC
The CTC is in an expansive wooded setting with wetlands on a 465-acre site roughly 30 miles north of Detroit. A wide variety of wildlife species have been observed on the site, including great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, wood ducks, cottontail rabbits, and Blanding’s turtles. The facility includes a 1.5-mile nature trail.
“Preserving the natural habitat of this site was part of the Master Plan when our Chrysler Group World Headquarters and Technology Center was first conceived,” said Greg Rose, Director – Environment, Health and Safety, Chrysler Group LLC.
There are four natural wetlands on the property, covering around 17 acres. The wetlands are an important habitat for great blue herons, which have formed a rookery (nesting colony) on the property. The water levels and water quality of the wetlands are maintained for the herons and other wildlife through engineering controls which direct road runoff away from the wetlands, direct precipitation into the wetlands, and minimize erosion and silt entering the wetlands.
Another project on the grounds of the Headquarters and Technology Center is the newly-created pollinator garden. Pollinating species are declining sharply in number, due largely to improper pesticide use and habitat fragmentation; the Chrysler Wildlife Team planted 15 different species of native plants to provide a food source from spring through fall, and cover in the winter.
Chrysler Tech Center: More
- Testing labs
- Creating the CTC: interview with Chris Theodore
- Chrysler Museum
- Checkerboard Square (test factory)
- Inside the Chrysler CTC, 2009 (editorial)
The Walter P. Chrysler Museum, on-site but no longer open to the public, shows how testing was done before the current state of the art facilities were created (the test cell in the museum is from the muscle car days):