Chrysler, powered by Fiat

  • 25-Nov-2009 04:49 EST
Paolo Ferrero Chrysler Powertrain VP.jpg
Chrysler's new Senior Vice President of Powertrain, Paolo Ferrero.

Fast forward to 2014. How will Chrysler’s North American vehicle portfolio that is comprised of 42% large (E-segment) cars and full-sized trucks—down from 55% in 2009— meet the stringent U.S. federal 35-mpg fuel economy standard?

According to Chrysler Senior Vice President of Powertrain, Paulo Ferrero, Chrysler will do it with a rapid deployment of the latest four-cylinder engines from Fiat Europe, in addition to downsizing and upgrading current engines, bringing in some diesels, and adding a smattering of hybrids and electric vehicles.

“I think with downsizing and the use of technologies such as Multiair [Fiat’s proprietary variable valve actuation technology] across the board, we will be well positioned in terms of our North American engines meeting the new fuel economy regulations,” Ferrero told AEI at an early November business meeting.

Ferrero is extremely genial and has an excellent technical mind, according to engineers who know him. He is said to be a good listener who builds trust among his engineering teams. He remembers names and has already made progress in rebuilding the espirit de corps that was gutted from Chrysler’s Powertrain group during the Daimler and Cerberus ownership periods.

Ferrero joined the new Chrysler Group from Fiat Powertrain Technologies, where he rose steadily through the ranks in product development and powertrain engineering. Most recently he was Vice President – Product Engineering.

He started his career in 1979 in Fiat's Abarth Racing group, where he was responsible for the design, testing, and field support of rally engines, endurance prototypes, and offshore powerboat racing with the Martini team.

In a move that was widely applauded in Auburn Hills, Ferrero brought veteran engine engineer Bob Lee back from vehicle engineering to help him lead the company’s North American Powertrain engineering activities.

“Bob Lee is a super guy, very competent, and great to work with,” Ferrero said. “I think it’s good for Bob and honestly, it’s good for me to have him on board. Bob’s a very talented guy.”

The product plan laid out by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne (reported in a separate AEI story) to revitalize Chrysler and return the automaker to profitability includes a significant remix of engines. Under the 2009-2014 plan, the inline four-cylinder share of Chrysler’s portfolio doubles to 38%, while V6s and V8s diminish from the current 72% share to 48% in 2014. Diesels grow from 9% to 18%, predominantly small Fiat turbodiesels for cars.

The positive impact on Chrysler’s average fleet fuel economy comes from engine downsizing enabled by Fiat’s Multiair technology for managing airflow into the combustion chamber. When combined with direct fuel injection and boosting, Multiair can deliver up to 140 hp/L, according to Ferrero. This would allow much smaller engines to replace larger units with equivalent power ratings. The configuration will likely be paired with Fiat’s stop-start mild feature to increase vehicle fuel efficiency.

The gasoline engines that will power most of Chrysler’s upcoming B- through D-segment vehicle offerings—all developed on Fiat architectures—will be derived from the 100/FIRE family. Fiat’s FIRE (Fully Integrated Robotized Engine), first launched in the 1970s, is generally credited as the first modern modular engine.

The FIRE architecture was most recently redesigned in 2007 and includes a turbocharged intercooled (TCi) variant of the base 1.4L 16-valve engine program. In Europe the FIRE is offered in outputs ranging from 90 kW/206 N•m to 114 kW/230 N•m (120 to 152 hp; 152 to 170 lb•ft, respectively) and will be built in North America.

Ferrero said many of Chrysler’s upcoming engines will wear Fiat’s Multiair VVT system, including the U.S.-developed Pentastar V6 that was well advanced in the pipeline prior to the Fiat business deal.

“We don’t plan to Multiair on the Hemi V8, however,” he noted. “But it is possible because the Multiair is a “block” that fits onto the cylinder head. The upper side of the head needs to be defined in order to adopt the block.”

According to Ferrero, the Hemi is “OK for now” in terms of its efficiency, due to its cylinder deactivation system and cam phaser.

Chrysler Group also will use a mix of hybrids and electric vehicles to bolster and improve its fleet fuel efficiency. Already planned for 2010 launch is a Two-Mode hybrid version of the Dodge Ram pickup, using the transmission co-developed with GM, Daimler, and BMW.

Plug-in hybrid versions of the Ram and a minivan are slated to debut in 2011. These vehicles will be part of the 220-unit test fleet mandated by the $70 million Dept. of Energy grant Chrysler received in 2009.

When Marchionne detailed Chrysler’s five-year turnaround plan, he said EVs would comprise less than 2% of the company’s 2014 sales. His pessimism regarding electrification was a key driver behind Fiat dissolving the former Chrysler’s ENVI electric-vehicle engineering group launched during the Cerberus regime.

The Fiat Doblo-based light commercial vehicle due in 2012 is being configured for a battery-electric drivetrain, to compete with Ford’s 2010 Transit Connect EV. The fate of the Dodge Circuit sports car unveiled by ENVI at the 2009 North American International Auto Show is currently unknown. The project was not mentioned by Marchionne and Ferrero, and insiders have it pegged as a long shot.

“We have much to accomplish in a very short time, and I realize the engineers are working flat out,” noted Ferrero. “But I’m very optimistic for the future of this company.”

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