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Chrysler 200 Chief Engineer Mitch Clauw at the 2014 DC Auto Show

Interviewed by A.J. Morning

Chrysler 200 in person / launch
Main 2015 200 page

Also present: Lisa Barrow, Northeast regional representative; Kathy Graham, C/D communication manager.

Lisa: The 2015 Chrysler 200 is obviously very attractive outside, but inside the features are amazing and we really have a great story to tell for this vehicle. It's a very important vehicle to the company, and we have a couple colleagues in from Michigan to tell you the full story. Mitch Clauw is our chief engineer for Chrysler Group C and D Segment vehicles, and Kathy Graham is communication manager, also with C and D Segment vehicles. Kathy, you want to kick it off?

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Kathy: ... Like Lisa said, this is a really important car not just for the Chrysler brand but for the company as well. So I'm going to give you a couple of overall high points and then turn it over to Mitch for the detail who is much more knowledgeable than I am. But the 200 is a mid-size sedan. It plays in the largest segment in the North American market. That segment has averaged 2.2 million sales in the last two years, so that means one of every six vehicles sold is a mid-sized sedan. It's also a very competitive segment. There's good vehicles there, so for us to compete solidly in this segment we really had to bring our A-game and we think we've done this with the all new car.

It's going to be available the second quarter in dealerships. It will have four models. We start with the LX which has a starting US MSRP of $21,700. That's $95 less than the outgoing 200. It's very well-equipped for an entry-level vehicle. There's things on it that aren't seen in the segment. It's standard with a nine-speed automatic transmission. It's standard with keyless enter-and-go and a push-button start, and it's standard with electronic shifting and a rotary dial. So you get some great technology even on the entry-level vehicle.

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Next up is the limited model that starts at $23,255. We expect that's going to be our volume model with about 45% of the sales for the vehicle. The next step up is the vehicle we have here which is the 200S. For the customer that wants a little bit edgier side and a little bit more of a performance driving experience, this is the vehicle for them. With a list price starting at $24,495, it's well-positioned in the segment. It's got some darker trim features to give it a little bit of a different style than you typically see in the mid-size sedan segment.

Then the top of the line is the 200C. That's the premium vehicle for the customer looking for a few more premium amenities. Very well-equipped, standard with nappa leather, the seven inch driver information display, LED, full-color cluster. A lot of goodies on there as standard equipment starting at $25,595.

Cars will arrive in the second half. Just a couple of quick touch points on the design. you'll notice that it's a very sleek, clean design with expressive features. The vehicle kind of speaks for itself. It doesn't have a lot of add-ons: trim, chrome, moldings, things like that. It also supports the new face of the Chrysler brand, so what you see here with the integrated headlamps in the grill, it's all body-color and one-color, kind of the three-dimensional look with the grill and then the wing badge has been expanded and is a little more expressive.

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So that's kind of the new face of the Chrysler brand that you're going to see moving forward. We think it's a great vehicle that's well-positioned. We're very excited for you guys to be able to drive it in the second quarter. And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Mitch and he'll talk about all the important stuff.

Mitch Clauw: Thanks, Cathy. It's a pleasure and honor to be here. As Cathy said, the D sedan segment in North America is the biggest segment, one in six vehicles sold here. When you take the dimensional characteristics of this new 200 and compare it to the other what I call primary eight competitors, you're going to find them all to be from exterior and interior dimensions within half an inch of each other. It's a remarkable segment, and everybody tries to stay in the same basic size.

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So what this vehicle is about is where we chose to be different to offer a lot more to the customer. This customer does expect some very fundamental things: durability, basic reliability. They like the fuel economy in this segment. They love storage and they love driver information. So we think in all those primary attributes, we've brought this new 200 to an all-new level.

The vehicle is all-new from the bottom up. We're using two proven powertrains in this lineup, our all-new nine-speed transmission which was launched later last year and we're now using it in two different gear ratios in this vehicle. It's a fully electronic, fully adaptive transmission. It's very smooth, very slick, and we're very proud of it. It's very good for fuel efficiency, obviously, and it's mated to two different engines. One is our 2.4 Tigershark Engine with multi-air technology, with 184 horsepower. An extremely competent-based engine. But the added surprise here is we have a 3.6 Pentastar premium engine, 295 horsepower on non-premium fuel. So that is our no excuses car. I'll tell you a little bit more about that. That engine is offered in the 200C and the 200S, and you can get that also with or without all-wheel drive.

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A little bit about the inside of the car, when I'm done here you're going to want to come up and see the inside of the car. This is where the car gets very different from the other eight or nine guys that compete in this segment. We painstakingly took great detail in millimeter-by-millimeter what we call beachfront realty, which is the driver's position, everything within three feet. We maximized all of the storage and all of the driver information system over a three-year period. We painstakingly went through great detail.

What you're going to see is some decisions we made in that compact that you don't see anybody else made: a rotary shifter to save space; an electronic parking brake to save space. So what does that mean? When you look in the car, you're going to see it's the largest console bin in any vehicle in the segment, and it's got this wonderful under-console area for a full-sized purse. It's not gimmicky; it's just pure, real storage, three years of hard-fought millimeter-by-millimeter optimization to give the customer what they really want.

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As you're in the driver's position and you look forward, we have a standard five and seven-inch TFT display, a color display, in the driver information screen to keep your eye forward on the road. It gives you a wealth of information. And off to the right, we have our class-leading 5 and 8.4 inch [UConnect] information screen in the center stack. That's the largest screen in the segment. They're touch screens, and again, that's our new system that Chrysler launched last year that's getting very good accolades for its intuitiveness and all the apps and all the features it's got. That in itself is a story we told last year, and it's playing very well on the four vehicles we've launched.

The bones of the car are very, very capable. It's an independent front and rear suspension and a fully isolated rear suspension. Extensive use of aluminum. We have a high-pressure die-cast aluminum front suspension cross-member that you'll only find usually on a German automaker's car. So we call it P-over-F which is basically all the things that mean road noise to us.

As you see, like on our 300, we take road noise very seriously, so you're going to find this car to be one of the quietest in the segment and it's also going to be one of the most astute driving cars in the segment. You won't believe me until you get in the cars when we start to introduce them to the media, but we take great pride in the fact that the steering of the vehicle is extremely capable. It's an electronic dual-pinion steering gear. Very, very fast ratios. So there's going to be some things when you get into the car that are going to very clearly separate it from other vehicles in the segment where we felt we wanted to go up and beyond them in driving capability.

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Lastly, we have an all-wheel drive version that's on the stage. This is teamed with the V6 if you want that option. We have a very unique system that we launched also in another vehicle last year, so it's tried and true. It's a fully automatic system. It knows temperature; it knows humidity; it knows outside climate conditions. No driver intervention is required. It has a complete disconnect at both the front powertrain cutoff unit as well as the rear-axle, so there's no spin loss at all. For fuel economy, it's almost what you would call the holy grail, a neutral fuel economy all-wheel drive system. It's only on when you need it, again based on driving conditions.

So, with the all-wheel drive, does the 200 use dog clutches like the Cherokee?

Mitch: The dog clutches are in the transmission.

One engineer observed: "It sounds like the ZF design. Using a friction disc and slipper disc clutch eliminates the timing issues to sync the dog clutches. One cost is that breakaway torque is lower (less effort to make the clutch pack slip)." The dog clutches within the transmission are precisely timed, and are unrelated to the alleged issues with Cherokee development.

The all-wheel drive system is obviously its own system. It's got a power takeoff unit from the transmission. That's got an electromechanical clutch that disconnects the drive for fuel efficiency. And then at the back, at the rear differential module, there's another electromechanical clutch that also will disengage depending on what it's commanded. So we completely disengage the entire all-wheel drive system at the transmission, but not via a dog clutch. The dog clutches are only within the transmissions themselves. The clutches that disconnect the all-wheel drive system are what I would call conventional all-wheel drive disconnect clutches. you'll see them in other all-wheel drive systems, but you'll never see one on a front and a back disconnecting at both. Usually they disconnect at the RDM [rear differential module] only and then you're still spinning the prop. We stopped the spin.

Kathy: So it does function like Jeep Active Drive One in the Cherokee as the closest . . .

Mitch: The single speed on the Cherokee, it's very similar hardware.

How does the suspension architecture differentiate between this and the Dart?

Mitch: Very. The Dart is a non-isolated rear bi-link suspension. This is a four-link, completely independent, completely isolated rear suspension. There's no commonality at all. So the Ds, which would be anything that's above a C like the Cherokee, they get fully independent, fully isolated rear suspensions.

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How much freedom did you have in engineering with the 200 vis-à-vis the Giulietta?

Mitch: I happen to know them very well. Actually, the only commonality when you get all the way up to a 200 really is in the steering system. The dual-pinion electronic steering system is very common with the Giulietta. Because the Giulietta is a very narrow car and this is a wider car because it's a D, the Giulietta is a very small C so there's very little that we could use actually the exact same parts. We have really not a lot of commonality with Giulietta, just the basic steering system.

Then the front suspension is similar to theirs. It's MacPherson-based, but the geometry is different for this vehicle because of the powertrains it takes, etc. We have a different roll-center. It had very different . . . the Alfa, it's like more of a go-kart, extremely biased towards handling and very little towards drive. This vehicle had to balance both, so we had to change the geometry.

On the subject of handling the geometry, are you involved at all with the rear-wheel drive platform that's supposed to be used by both Alfa and Dodge?

Kathy: We haven't talked about Alfa at all as a company, so that would be no.

Mitch: you'll have to talk to them.

Kathy: That's something that until we announce something, we wouldn't talk about that at all.

Specific to the 200, what are some of the biggest challenges involved with bringing that car to market?

Mitch: I'm not sure it's a challenge. I think because we make D sedans today, we understand the customer. Our old 200 was becoming deficient in many ways, including the fuel efficiency, so we knew exactly on 48 different characteristics where we wanted the new 200 to be better than the old 200, superior for fuel efficiency and for driver position and ergonomics and driver display. Basically anything that the driver and front passenger thought was in their top priority needs, we tried to improve on it: knee room, hip room, shoulder room. Any type of those characteristics.

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Chrysler 200 in person / launch
Main 2015 200 page

And then add some additional features, some of the active safety features that are in this car that are not anywhere in the current lineup. So we've got a full active safety from lane assist to front and rear park assist to forward collision warning plus. None of this is on the current 200, so all of that. Perpendicular and parallel park assist, none of that is on the current 200. The new 200 has all of that. So it allowed us to sort of jump into the next family of technology a lot of people are looking for.

The Washington Auto Show has more than 700 new vehicles. It is in the Washington Convention Center, which covers two city blocks and has a Metro stop (Mt. Vernon Square, off the green and yellow lines). 2014 DC Show CoverageRam InterviewCar Shows Index

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