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IBM to integrate Fiat, Chrysler

Detroit News’ Bryce G. Hoffman reported today that IBM will integrate Fiat’s, Chrysler’s, and CNH’s global computer systems and related business processes.

The contract will likely bring Chrysler and CNH into line with Fiat’s practices, given that IBM has been working with Fiat for ten years.  At Chrysler, the new contract replaces IT supplier CSC.

Integrating processes, software, and hardware is likely necessary in the long run for the level of collaboration desired by Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. IBM announced that the integration would help bring together dealer networks as well as engineering.

Fiat gained control of Chrysler in 2009, but did not actually take ownership of the full company until this year. CNH Industrial was created by merging Case New Holland with Fiat Industrial.

All cars getting rear-view cameras

All vehicles sold in North America (weighing under 10,000 pounds) will have backup cameras by mid-2018, according to regulations approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation today. The rules were mandated by Congress in 2008, due to parents killing their children by backing up into them — presumably a result of the greater popularity of pickup trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, as well as cars designed with high trunks that slash rear visibility.

This type of accident was reported as being the largest killer of children in automobile collisions.  The original regulations were finalized in 2010, but were delayed due to the costs involved.


Chrysler and R1234yf

An Automotive News article today announced that numerous Chrysler cars and trucks will have a new refrigerant, dubbed R1234yf by its inventors (Honeywell and DuPont), which has a much lower greenhouse-gas index (meaning that escaped refrigerant does not have trap as much heat as the current R134a refrigerant).

Standardizing air conditioning systems between American and European cars is one reason for the switch, but the article pointed out that EPA credits for R1234yf systems sold in the United States is more likely the deciding factor in Chrysler’s move. Using a refrigerant with a low greenhouse-gas index allows automakers to comply with new economy and greenhouse gas standards, and can trade excess credits with automakers whose lineup is less efficient.

R1234yf has a claimed greenhouse-gas index of 1, meaning it has the same impact on the atmosphere’s heat retention as carbon dioxide. R134a, on the other hand, has an index of 1,430, meaning it has 1,430 times the impact of carbon dioxide.

Nearly all climate scientists not employed by the petroleum industry and its lobbying groups have endorsed the theory of global warming, though it remains controversial in the United States and parts of Canada. Around 97% of Europeans and around half of Americans believe that global warming exists and has a human-caused component, according to recent surveys. Wikipedia noted that, in a meta-study of papers found that 97% of those with a conclusion “supported the consensus view that it [global warming] is man made.”  Generally, those involved in the automotive industry appear to believe global warming is a hoax.

The European Union will require all new passenger cars to use a refrigerant with an index of under 150. The new standards were nearly delayed by Daimler’s testing, which revealed a fire hazard. Daimler’s findings, however, could not be replicated by anyone else; continued testing by SAE to verify Daimler’s claims revealed that it was safe, and implied that Daimler had chosen a specific testing regimen to garner the desired result. Daimler and other German automakers have pressed for a system that would use carbon dioxide under very high pressures, which could be marginally safer but drag down fuel economy. Daimler, BMW, and Volkswagen-Audi Group are still free to use carbon dioxide-based systems, since these conform to E.U. standards.

Cars sold in the United States with the new refrigerant include the 2014 Chrysler 300/300C, Dodge Challenger and Charger, and Jeep Cherokee, with Dodge Dart and Ram 1500 scheduled to get the new system during calendar-year 2014; from GM, the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Spark EV; and the Honda Fit EV, Ranger Rover, and Range Rover Sport. The XTS and Fit EV were the first cars in America to use R1234yf, starting in 2013, but it appears that Chrysler will have the widest range and already has the largest sales numbers.

The major downsides of the new refrigerant are greater cost over R134a, which is extremely inexpensive when purchased in bulk, and the need for new equipment at dealerships; for a time, it may also be harder to have vehicles serviced at independent shops, though by the time the new cars are old enough to be leaking, the equipment is likely to be widely available.

Better Stow ’n’ Go coming?

One of Chrysler’s continuing advantages in minivans is the “Stow ’n’ Go” seating system, which lets owners fold their seats into the floor, providing a flat load floor from the front seats back to the gate. Launched in the 2005 minivans, it was improved in the 2008s by having the headrests flip forward automatically, killing one step in the (still rather easy) process.

stow n go patent minivans

Now, reader Steven St. Laurent pointed out that Chrysler appears to have more tricks up its sleeve, with a new patent showing another revised Stow ’n’ Go system, presumably for the 2015-or-2016 minivans due at the start of 2015 or so. The primary advantage of this system, based on perusal of the images, is that the middle seats fold first and then move into the floor, which would make moving the front seats forward less of an issue; the system also appears to be less complex, based on the description. Part of the floor panel (when stowed) is fixed to the seat back, also simplifying stowage and reducing the parts count.  (You can peruse the full patent if you wish.)


Ram rocks with new diesel


The Ram 1500 pickup has been on a roll recently as, Chrysler group designers and engineers have developed what is arguably the best full-size pickup on the market today. An unprecedented second consecutive win as Motor Trend’s “Truck of the Year” and a repeat performance as “The Truck of Texas” show the Ram is outpacing the competition, including the newly overhauled (at great cost) Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins from GM.

For the 2014 model year, Ram added icing to the cake with the new V6 EcoDiesel engine, the first diesel offered in a light-duty American pickup for many years. Based on the same VM Motori powerplant installed in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the EcoDiesel cranks out 240 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like much for a full-size truck, and 420 lb-ft of torque, which is playing well into V8 territory. In the truck market, torque is what counts: it’s what gets you and the load moving.

There aren’t any EPA figures, but Ram brand CEO Reid Bigland says they’ve been getting about 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway in testing, phenomenal for a big American pickup. Compare that to Chevrolet’s highly-touted 4.3-liter EcoTec3 V6 that produces 285 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque while delivering an EPA estimated 18/20/24 mpg city, combined and highway, respectively. Ford’s V6 doesn’t even do that well: a 3.5-liter V6 that gets 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. (By comparison, the Ram 1500 with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and eight-speed transmission is EPA-rated at 17/20/25.)


With the observed fuel economy, an EcoDiesel Ram 1500 could have an operating range of about 700 miles. That’s enough to get from Detroit to Boston or almost to Atlanta on one tank of fuel. In Texas terms, the Ram would get you from Houston almost to El Paso.

Those familiar only with older diesels or big rigs may be conjuring up images of lots of smoke, lots of clatter and 0-60 times that include lunch breaks. The Ram EcoDiesel is the new breed. It’s 50-state emissions compliant, unobtrusive, and, thanks to the torque coming in at 2000 rpm and the eight-speed gearbox, has plenty of juice to play in traffic. Combine that with the fuel economy and it’s not surprising that the EcoDiesel and eight-speed were voted “Best Powertrain” at the 2013 Texas Truck Rodeo, garnering twice as many points as the runner-up GM EcoTec.

I’ve had two opportunities to try out the new diesel, but the longest drive was in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles. The truck had good acceleration, good response, plenty of power to climb dirt roads up the hillsides, and was just like driving a pickup with a conventional engine. With the Ram’s outstanding suspension and the creature comforts of the Laramie crew cab, the 1500 EcoDiesel was such a pleasure to drive, I wanted to keep on motoring just for the enjoyment of it.

Noise was minimal and unobtrusive, even at startup.

Black smoke has been consigned to the bad old days with the addition of a diesel oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter, and selective catalyst reduction: it’s “California-clean.” For even lower greenhouse gas emissions, the EcoDiesel can operate on biodiesel fuel.

In addition to lower fuel costs, the EcoDiesel should have lower maintenance costs, including oil changes every 10,000 miles. Unlike some past attempts at building a diesel for a light vehicle, the Ram EcoDiesel was designed to be a diesel: it’s not adapted from a conventional engine. This means components designed from the beginning to handle the pressures required by the diesel system. Even though it’s a V6, the Ram EcoDiesel weighs about 20 pounds more than the 5.7-liter HEMI V8.


The downside to the EcoDiesel is its price. Official figures haven’t been announced, but Bigland said the diesel would carry of premium of about $4,000 over the base engine and about $2,800 over the optional HEMI V8. That sounds like a lot, but it’s half the price of adding the Cummins diesel to a Ram 2500, and the payoff comes in reduced fuel and maintenance costs and an engine designed for the long haul.

The EcoDiesel will be an option for all Ram trim levels and body styles except the standard cab with the short bed. This means fleet buyers can get it in the base Tradesman and rack up some serious reductions in operating costs.

The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is due in dealer showrooms in March 2014. Anyone seriously considering a full-size pickup should add it to their shopping list.

Ram 1500 diesel still coming

In 2013, the Ram 1500 diesel was shown as a 2014 model. It’s now expected to enter production in January 2014, making widespread availability in late February 2014.

While the Ram 1500 will probably still be the first modern diesel-powered pickup in its class, and will no doubt have far better fuel economy than gasoline-powered competitors, the delay has been aggravating for buyers looking forward to having a more efficient tow vehicle. Modern diesel engines are responsive, quiet, and efficient, especially under heavy loads, when turbocharged gasoline engines (used by Ford) are at their worst.

The delays, according to one source, stem largely from emissions controls; while the actual percentages of pollutants emitted by warm engines are not a problem for VM, the measurement techniques used by American authorities are tougher and more realistic than European methods. The result was apparently a surprise to VM, which has supplied engines for European Jeep and Chrysler vehicles for decades, and it has taken a long time to get certification. The Jeep diesel was reportedly only approved in October 2013.

VM’s production capabilities may also have been an issue; the company is not geared for American Ram and Jeep volumes. The company is expanding their facilities to meet new demand, and some believe that, if the engines are popular enough, that VM’s parent Fiat might build them using their under-used Italian plants.

The good news is that the pickups are coming, and that they have received nearly universal acclaim from critics.

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