By DAVID BARKHOLZ | BRADFORD WERNLE | AUTOMOTIVE NEWS
DaimlerChrysler AG plans to invest about $2 billion in a new global family of V-6 engines.
The "modular" engines will begin appearing at the end of the decade. The basic architecture will be shared by Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler group vehicles.
The project, known internally as Phoenix, will build the V-6s at three Chrysler engine plants in the United States: Kenosha, Wis.; Trenton, Mich.; and Toledo Machine in Ohio. Engines also will be produced at a Mercedes factory in Germany.
"We are working on a new family which can operate on a modular base," DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche said in a recent interview. The program will reduce DaimlerChrysler's V-6 engines "to one family instead of five," Zetsche said.
Chrysler spokesman Mike Aberlich said the company is still completing some "business plan issues" on the program. He said those issues should be resolved within a few months.
UAW sources say DaimlerChrysler is investing about $800 million at Trenton, $700 million at Toledo and $500 million at Kenosha -- a total of $2 billion.
DaimlerChrysler intends to build the engines on flexible manufacturing lines, said a UAW source who declined to be identified.
The flexible lines will allow multiple types of V-6 engines to be made on the same line in any sequence. If one version sells faster than another, production can be stepped up with minor adjustments to tooling, instead of scrapping or underusing the multimillion-dollar machines. Most Chrysler engine lines today are dedicated to a single type of engine.
The automaker plans to offer the first Phoenix engines on 2010 models, the UAW source said. Kenosha Engine probably will make the first engines. The 800 hourly workers there approved work rule changes this summer for a chance at the program.
When production of the new engine starts, job classifications will be reduced to two at the plant. And four-day, 10-hour-a-day workweeks will be instituted.
Workers at Chrysler's Trenton Engine plant and Toledo Machine plant approved similar work rule changes. They, too, expect to produce the new engines. Toledo Machine, in Perrysburg, Ohio, is scheduled to be the last of the three to come on line in 2012, said Paul Lambrecht, a grinder at Toledo Machine who is a councilman in nearby Oregon, Ohio.
Sources say the Mercedes-Benz versions of the engines will contain more high-tech features, including variable valve timing and direct injection.
The engine family is expected to be versatile enough to accommodate everything from base engines to high-performance powertrains. The engines can be adapted to run on everything from Chrysler's front-wheel-drive minivans to rear-drive sedans such as the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum and the Mercedes-Benz C, E and S classes.
Chrysler plans to model many aspects of the program on the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance, a joint-venture plant in Dundee, Mich., that makes four-cylinder engines used in the Dodge Caliber car, Jeep Compass and Liberty. DaimlerChrysler is a partner in the Dundee plant with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co.
The Chrysler group alone is expected to replace four V-6 engine families with the new engine. The Kenosha plant builds the single-overhead-cam 60-degree aluminum block 2.7-liter V-6 used in the Chrysler Sebring and 300 cars.
Kenosha also makes a dual-overhead-cam engine, a 3.5-liter aluminum V-6 that powers the Pacifica crossover. A new 4.0-liter version is expected to be introduced this fall in the 2007 Pacifica and Dodge Nitro SUV.
Chrysler's third V-6 engine is a single-overhead-cam iron block 3.7-liter made at the Mack Avenue plant in Detroit and used in the Dodge Dakota and Ram pickups, Durango SUV, and the Jeep Liberty, Commander and Grand Cherokee.
Trenton builds the fourth engine family: an overhead valve, iron block 3.3- and 3.8-liter V-6 used in Chrysler's minivans and Jeep Wrangler.