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Auto Development Notes

by Bob Sheaves, former suspension engineer

article was written partly to explain why a Magnum or 300 squad car was
not available until the 300C and Magnum had been produced for a while.

The 36 month figure [for
designing a new car such as the LX] refers to a full platform, which
means no engine development, no transmission development, no axle
development, etc. - building a new basis for a family of vehicles. For
example, Chrysler has 5 platform teams-I will use the old names so
people are not confused:

1. Large Car platform

2. Small car platform

3. Minivan platform

4. Jeep/Truck platform

5. Viper amd Special Vehicle platform

Each one of the groups is chartered to develop a family of
vehicles...i.e. Large Car Platform designes the LX, Small Car Platform
develops the Stratus/Sebring, Jeep-Truck Engineering develops all Jeeps
and trucks, Minivan develops the minivan and Pacifica, and finally,
Viper/SVP develops the Viper, PVO cars, TE Electric minivans, and is
involved with the factory racing to a small extent.

Additionally, you have the Engine development group, Transmission
development group, Product Design Office (where all vehicles are
styled), Financial, Legal, IT (Imformation Technology), Program
Management, and finally Corporate Management. All of these ancillary
groups perform a vital function directly related to the design process.
IT for example, is charged with the development of the process cars are
designed from the initial concept studies through the manufacturing
plantoperation, service parts operations, etc.

The design process is such that a single vehicle design engineer may
have 4 jobs he/she is working on at one time, such as current model
revision of parts, new packaging for a new platform, supplier selection
and verification, and finally, component testing. If everythnig goes
according to the master product plan, there is just enough hours in the
day to accomplish the work required, due to so many people being
"removed" from the pool of talent. Let one thing go bad (a supplier
that cannot perform as needed, an error in packaging a component, or
whatever) and the whole process tumbles like the proverbial house of

How well this group of inter-related processes performs is going to
depend on the acceptance by the union, by the middle managers, and by
the people on the "front lines". Plans are great-they are a valuable
part of the process to keep everyone headed in the desired direction.
Unfortunately, guiding an automotive company is sort of like trying to
herd goats.....every once in a while you are going to get a horn in the

Variants, on the other hand, are much harder to quantify, because the
amount of rework varies from vehicle to vehicle. If, for example we
take [one person's recent] comments about [how easy it would be to
create a police car based on the Charger], assuming it is a four door
sedan and not a wagon, and finally assuming the performance is
avaialble in the basic vehicle....there are over 300 parts that must be
changed in design, tooling designed to produce the new parts, assembly
PDM sheets developed (the build process and how not to get a police
front end on a wagon or 300C), training for the assembly workers,
testing to the Michigan State Police standards for certification, EPA
testing for emissions certification, NHTSA testing for safety
testing, etc. This kind of process can only be accomplished after the
basic platform is "frozen", which is not until some 25 weeks or so
before volume production starts for the basic platform. Preliminary
work can be done ahead of time, if
you have the manpower (and Chrysler doesn't) available, with the
understanding that the parts designed will change, sometimes radically,
due to a test failure, for example.

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