In the Middle
Think of it as a bracketing movement. And this is in the middle. There is the Dodge Charger on one side. A full-size car. There is the Dodge Caliber on the other side. A compact car. Those two alone aren’t bad for a division that is probably most well known for pickup trucks and Grand Caravan minivans, not cars, in particular. (OK. There are few on the planet who aren’t aware of the Dodge Viper, but that’s something else entirely.) The middle is the 2008 Dodge Avenger. Yes, a midsize car. One that resembles its big brother. Just as the Charger is built in a plant with the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Magnum, just as the Caliber is built in a plant with the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot, the Avenger is produced with platform mates. In its case, it is produced at the three million-ft2 Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) in Michigan, along with the Chrysler Sebring sedan and Sebring convertible. Chrysler Group invested $500-million in SHAP and the nearby 2.7-million-ft2 Sterling Stamping Plant for these new vehicles, of which $278-million was spent at SHAP. That money went toward overhauling the body shop, improving the paint shop, and installing a new glass installation cell, windshield decking equipment, chassis-insertion loop system, fluid-fill equipment, and roll-test machines in the Trim, Chassis and Final areas. What’s more, 620 new robots (for welding and material handling) were installed in the plant, so there is a total of 784 robots in the Body Shop. SHAP and Belvidere Assembly, where the Caliber, Compass and Patriot are built, are cited as being two of the templates of Chrysler’s “Flexible Manufacturing Strategy.” According to Fred Goedtel, Chrysler group vp—Small/Premium/Family Vehicle Assembly, “The plant enhancements have made the facility more flexible and efficient. The assembly operation now has the capability to build multiple upper bodies and multiple vehicle families or architectures, which will allow for the flexibility to add new models or models from other plants in order to better meet the dynamics of the market.” It also allows them to flex the demand for particular models within SHAP itself.
The people at SHAP and their colleagues at Sterling Stamping are working with a seriously strong structure for a midsize car. Dennis Krozek, Dodge Avenger chief engineer, says, “By mass, Avenger’s body structure is a combined 30% mix of hot-stamped and high-strength steel. The development team estimates that the Avenger has among the highest quantity of high- and ultra-high-strength steels of any production cars built in the U.S. The A- and B-pillars and the roof-rail reinforcements are hot-stamped. One of the benefits of using this material is that it reduces weight of the upper body by 30 lb. compared with using traditional steel grades. Dual-phase steel is used for the rear rails, tunnel reinforcement, and sills. The objective here is, in part, to help manage crash energy. Dave Lauzun, senior manager, Avenger Vehicle Development, says that compared with the structure of the previous-generation midsize, the Dodge Stratus, the Avenger is 1.7 times stiffer torsionally (@32.2 Hz) and 1.6 times stiffer in bending mode (@26.3 Hz). “When you design a vehicle with a great body—a nice, rigid, stiff body—it makes everything else easy,” Lauzun remarks, ticking off the ability to engineer the safety cage, NVH package, handling package as examples of what the strong body provides.
Under the Hood
The Avenger has three available engines. A 2.4-liter in-line four that produces 173 hp @ 6,000 rpm (the “World Engine”); a 189-hp 2.7-liter V6 that can run on unleaded regular or E-85; or a 235-hp 3.5-liter V6. The first two engines come standard with four-speed automatic transmissions. The 3.5-liter engine has a standard six-speed with AutoStick. Another sign of how Chrysler is sharing know-how and functionality across its vehicles is the late ’07 availability of an on-demand all-wheel-drive system for the Avenger, which deploys an electronically controlled coupling (input from driver’s throttle response and wheel sensors) and provides variable torque output to the rear wheels as needed (as much as 60% of the torque can be sent to the rear wheels).
Design to Be Bold
What is most striking about the Avenger—for good or ill, depending on one’s point of view—is its design, which is clearly derivative of the Dodge Charger. (In 2005 AD&P gave its first Excellence in Exterior Design Award to the Charger SRT8, so we are partisans of that vehicle.) The lead exterior designer for the Avenger is Ryan Nagode. One of the things that he says inspired the design of the Avenger is a pair of Oakley sunglasses he owned: “They embodied character, attitude.” Speaking of the front end, for example, there’s attitude expressed, Nagode says, in the headlamps tucked under the brow of the hood, which results in what he describes as a “sneering feel.” At the corners of front, below the headlamps, there are what he describes as “boxing gloves.” Down lower on the fascia, at the air splitter, he says there’s “a nice aggressive flair.” From the side: “A nice athletic gesture to it; we often refer to it as ‘pouncing forward.’” Get the attitude? Especially as Nagode says of the midsize car segment in general: “It has a lot of vanilla, a lot of bland—nothing too controversial.” Not Dodge.
Toys for Big Kids
Ryan Nagode, 26, hails from East Aurora, NY. If you have kids, that name may resonate somewhere in the back of your mind because that is where Fisher-Price Toys is headquartered. And Nagode’s father, Larry, happens to be the principal director of design at Fisher-Price. Like his father, Ryan attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. He, not surprisingly, gave thought to designing toys. But while going to school he participated in the Saturday classes where people from car companies would teach, which led to his interest in vehicle design. Following his graduation, he joined Chrysler in 2003 and pretty much went straight into the design process that was to result in the Dodge Avenger.
Nagode explains that the design had been underway before he started. “It was going to be more of a sports tourer, more wagon-like.” But the vehicle didn’t do as well in clinics as had been hoped, so they switched focus to a midsize sedan.
The vehicle is clearly influenced by the design of the Dodge Charger. The platform mate, the Chrysler Sebring, does not look like its bigger sibling, the Chrysler 300. Nagode points out that the proportions of the 300 contribute greatly to the success of that design: “The design works well because of the size of the car.” When it was scaled down to midsize, it didn’t work as well. That was not an issue with the Charger and the Avenger, although Nagode hastens to point out that while there are clearly Charger cues, it was evolved. “It’s a little bit more modern,” he says.