Chrysler's Concepts: Design & Manufacturing Issues of the Imperial & Challenger

WHY NO EGG CRATE?Although Chrysler designers have been working hard the past several years to bring a family resemblance to the grilles, with the flying wings bold, prominent, and at the top, over an egg-crate air-inlet array beneath, that has been abandoned on the Imperial concept.


Although Chrysler designers have been working hard the past several years to bring a family resemblance to the grilles, with the flying wings bold, prominent, and at the top, over an egg-crate air-inlet array beneath, that has been abandoned on the Imperial concept. No, the badge is still there, in fact accentuated, as it is ensconced in a massive rectangle (with rounded corners) of bright material that resembles silver more than the aluminum that it is. That large piece is balanced, in effect, with a smaller bit of bright work at the bottom of the grille assembly. But between the two, the egg crate has given way to a series of horizontal slats that are pulled pack toward the headlights slightly, picking up a line that bifurcates the car, starting with the lower fascia below the grille then up onto the top of the hood in the form of a molding that runs to the windshield. Simply stated, the grille doesn’t look like a typical Chrysler grille.

About which Trevor Creed, senior vp of Chrysler Group Design, says, “How could you have any precedence set that you could expect one thing or another. I’ve never done an Imperial before. . .so it is a brand new grille.” He explains that he’d seen a series of drawings of grilles, then spotted the one that appealed the most to him. Recalling the event, he remarks, “I said, ‘That’s the grille, that’s the one that’s really imposing, the one that says, ‘Hey, I’m the big brother to the 300C—move over.’’”

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Although the Imperial is based on the LX platform—the underpinning for the 300, Magnum, and Charger—it is a stretched version: the wheelbase is 123 in., which is 17 in. longer. Still it is the sort of thing that is well within reason as regards putting it into production. It is not a total flight of creative design fancy. So, does this mean that if the show-goers who see the car go as ga-ga over it as they had over the 300 concept Chrysler will put the Imperial on the production line in the Brampton Assembly Plant along with its smaller brethren? (Or will they bring the other concept, the Dodge Challenger, to the line, which is actually shorter by 4 in. (116 in. wheel base) and wider by an inch compared with the other LX models, as it has front and rear track widths of 64 and 64. in., respectively?) Well, according to Tom LaSorda, Chrysler Group president and CEO, the answer to that question’s answer is probably “no” for the simple reason that given the popularity of the other LX models, the Brampton plant is full. Which means they’d have to figure out some other way of accommodating new vehicles within the company’s manufacturing footprint.

From a perceptual point of view—with a car that has more than hints of stately products like the Rolls-Royce—does the Imperial fit within LaSorda’s view of where Chrysler is positioned in the market, especially since Mercedes-Benz, which has the higher market pedigree, could use some LX-like success and probably doesn’t need another competitor? LaSorda says, “It is probably the highest end car we would ever consider” and describes it as “a bit of a stretch.” In terms of category, he remarks, “We’re staying kind of where we are. Premium is where we are. Our sister division Mercedes does an outstanding job on luxury. That’s their segment.”

Of course, cars like the Challenger are clearly Dodge’s segment. So, is there greater production potential there? “Quite frankly,” LaSorda admits, “we’re looking at that one pretty seriously.”

How seriously? Well, there seems to be a possibility that Chrysler will build the Challenger. Not in Brampton. But in the St. Louis South Assembly Plant. In December 2005 the company announced an investment of as much as $1-billion in the St. Louis North and St. Louis South plants. At the latter they are presently producing minivans. The investment is meant to provide flexibility: the ability to produce multiple vehicles off of more than one platform, including front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles. Beyond the Challenger, Frank Klegon, executive v.p., Product Development, Chrysler Group, says that the transformation of St. Louis and other plants within the system will allow the vehicle manufacturer to deal with cyclical demands. “What tends to be cyclical now is not the total industry volume as much as the cycles and movement between different kinds of vehicles in the marketplace,” he says. “We have to be able to react to those changes without building new infrastructure and a new plant.” So if pony cars become popular . . . 

So how flexible will Chrysler be? According to Frank Ewasyshyn, executive v.p., Manufacturing, Chrysler Group, “As long as we maintain some basic rules, the only restriction we face is whether a vehicle has a compatible assembly sequence and fits through the process envelope.” And they are paying careful attention to sequence and size. He says that Chrysler’s flex plans are built around a lot size of one, and that all of the production processes and tooling are set up to go from model to model. In what could be described as a flight of manufacturing fancy, Ewasyshyn claims, “If I can build a chassis rail, why can’t I build a toolbox, bucket, metal desk, or whatever else I want as long as it uses the same type of processes in reasonably the same order and I have enough of an envelope to move the part?” Presumably, they’re not going to be making boxes and buckets. The Challenger, however . . .



One evident aspect of the design of the Challenger is that it has two doors. One of the things that some passionate partisans took exception to on the design of the current Dodge Charger is that it, unlike its forerunners, has four. The purpose of the two additional doors on the Charger is to add functionality. And back in late ’04 and ’05 when Trevor Creed talked about those doors, he says that there had been misquotations and misunderstandings vis-à-vis his stance on the death of the two-door models for Chrysler Group. When asked about the number of doors on the Challenger, he first points out that it is “not a coupe,” but, rather “a two-door hardtop,” and then goes on to state, “Two doors are OK for anything.” He explains, however, “There’s definitely a market for two-door cars, but the question is at what point, at which segment, do you put it, and what are your expectations in terms of sale-ability. I think if you have modest expectations, you’ll probably be OK.”