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Chrysler Technical Center (CTC) and Auburn Hills Complex

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Chrysler Technical Center (CTC) and Auburn Hills Complex

by David Zatz

The Chrysler Technical Center and headquarters building ("CTC") is a state-of-the-art technical center and corporate headquarters, with 5.4 million square feet of floor space - the second largest of any building in America, after the Pentagon. The $1.6 billion building sits on a 465 acre site, around thirty miles north of Detroit itself.

some photos by Carolyn Allmacher

In 1991, the building started to bring together employees from 28 different facilities, with new testing centers, basement hallways large enough for two cars to pass each other, wind tunnels, research labs, and development teams.

The most visible part of the building, the executive tower, was added in 1993-96; the other buildings go up to three stories. The site also has a 1.8 mile evaluation road, noise/vibration facility, electromagnetic compatibility center, environmental test center, and full size wind tunnels, and a 3/8 model wind tunnel with thermal testing capability - not to mention a 57,000 square foot training center with teleconferencing and fitness center (later bolstered to 70,000 square feet).

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, 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.

The CTC was only supposed to house the technical staff only, consolidating engineers, moving them away from the disruptions of executives, and increasing 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 the 1998 takeover by Daimler-Benz.

While the old engine test cells had minimal safety and automation, the current test cells are highly automated, much safer, and have their own concrete foundation to avoid passing along vibration to the rest of the complex.

Parts of the CTC look like a huge shopping mall inside. The main hallway is lined with glass, so you can see into various offices. 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:

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 170,000 square foot test factory, like the "Checkerboard Square" set up at Belvidere. This area lets engineers figure out factory ergonomics and technical issues in advance and lets Chrysler get over manufacturing hurdles before ordering tooling.

The Chrysler Technical Center held over 8,400 employees in 2005. The post-Fiat boom, coupled with the Daimler/Cerberus loss of the Plymouth Road Office Complex, brought far larger numbers - 14,200 by the end of 2013, and around 15,000 at the start of 2016. The Chrysler Museum, which is on the far corner of the grounds, was shut down in mid-December for conversion to more office space.

The Chrysler Technical Center remains a strategic asset; its extensive testing centers, all-under-one-roof elements, and other components all help Chrysler/FCA engineers to do more with less.

Wildlife at the CTC

The site of the CTC still has a good deal of preserved woodland and wetland. Wildlife on the site includes great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, wood ducks, cottontail rabbits, and Blanding's turtles, which can be seen on the 1.5-mile nature trail.

Freshwater marsh Bird Nature Nature reserve Bayou

Four natural wetlands cover around 17 acres and shelter a nesting colony of great blue herons; water levels and quality are maintained by directing road runoff away from the wetlands, guiding direct precipitation into the wetlands, and minimizing erosion and silt.

Nationally, pollinating species are declining sharply, 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

In 2015, the company noted it was computer-printing transparent axle housings to trace the flow of oil and compare reality to computer models; they said they had the highest-speed wind tunnel (160 mph) of any domestic automaker, 129 dynamometer cells, and no landfill waste.

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