Customer Magazine article
Article written by Richard Stewart as a Customer Profile
for Delphi Chassis Systems customer magazine, "Thinking Ahead."
Virtual R&D Center Pulls Team Together
A T-Rex was spotted in early spring moving over rugged terrain north
of Los Angeles. But it wasn't a fearsome dinosaur back from extinction
that was causing all the excitement. This T-Rex was a 500-hp, 6x6 concept
vehicle from Chrysler Corporation -- the "ultimate Ram truck." The
occasion was a press event featuring a ride-and-drive demonstration of
the performance capabilities of the unique sport pickup. Delphi Chassis,
developer of the truck's electronically controlled adaptive air suspension,
was on hand to lend support.
The vehicle was conceived, designed and built in little more than a
year with a minimal investment, according to Bernard I. Robertson,
Chrysler VP Engineering Technologies and General Manager of
Jeep®/Truck Operations. Early involvement of Tier One suppliers and
an innovative "Virtual R&D Center" approach to vehicle development
are credited for the success of this and other programs completed
recently by Chrysler, which has become known as Detroit's profitability
The key is partnering with suppliers early in the product program.
Research engineers, including Tier One suppliers, are given precisely defined
R&D goals and asked to contribute their expertise. By relying on suppliers in
this extended enterprise, Chrysler only needs to invest 2.7 percent of sales
in R&D, compared to the 5 or 6 percent which other companies typically
spend, Robertson notes.
"This multi-faceted R&D effort minimizes the need for an extensive R&D
Center and cuts millions of dollars from development costs," he says. "This
helps Chrysler bring affordable, advanced technology products to market as
quickly and economically as anyone in the world -- automotive or otherwise."
Delphi Chassis Role
To develop the suspension system for T-Rex, Delphi Chassis engineers
worked hand in hand with Chrysler engineers at Chrysler facilities. The
system is a six-corner electronically controlled adaptive air suspension, with
two air springs per axle, located by trailing arms and track bar. It features
automatic load leveling as well as driver-selectable ride control and height
adjustment for increased ground clearance.
Tom Merkle, Delphi Chassis customer manager for Chrysler, was among
the supplier participants at the T-Rex event. He also is planning to take part
in Camp Jeep '97, an off-road event for Jeep owners, Aug. 1-3, near Vail,
Colorado. Merkle and other representatives from Delphi Automotive Systems
divisions participated in the first two annual Camp Jeep programs, staffing a
product display in the engineering tent and participating in tech talks and
round-table engineering discussions with Jeep owners. Delphi Automotive,
one of Chrysler's 10 Key Suppliers, welcomes the opportunity to support
customer programs such as these.
Delphi Chassis supplies Chrysler with a variety of products -- from
individual brake and suspension components to modules and integrated
systems. Merkle notes that the division is working on several future
programs that involve weight-saving Lifteflex™ composite springs and
Litecast™ suspension links. "Chrysler realizes that weight reduction will
become more important in the future, and they see our composite products
as a solution," he says.
Dick Lee, Delphi Chassis sales manager, characterizes the relationship
between the division and Chrysler as "good and getting better." He is hoping
for expanded business in brakes and more systems responsibility in a variety
of product programs. "Chrysler recognizes the value of a supplier who can
bring them a system. We put the components together, test them and deliver
an integrated system," relates Lee. "For example, we have total responsibility
for the powertrain mount system. We do noise and vibration analysis, then
design mounts to optimize engine performance."
Chrysler expects a lot from Tier One suppliers: high product quality, on-time
delivery and competitive pricing. Merkle keeps close tabs on the division's
delivery and quality performance using Chrysler's on-line Supplier Partner
Information Network. "Chrysler feels that the more information it can provide
suppliers, the better we can serve their needs," he explains. Delphi also
participates in Chrysler's voluntary Supplier Cost Reduction Effort (SCORE),
which saved the automaker about $1 billion last year. Delphi's SCORE objective
this year is a cost reduction of 5% of sales.
Like other OEMs, Chrysler closely guards its proprietary information and
demands the strictest confidentiality from suppliers. Delphi Automotive policies
ensure that customer information is restricted to those with a "need to know."
Chrysler's confidence in Delphi's ability to keep its secrets and to develop
advanced technologies for future automotive markets is evidenced by the
selection of Delphi Energy and Engine Management Systems as the technology
developer and primary systems integrator for a hydrogen-powered fuel cell
program which Chrysler hopes to introduce on a concept vehicle by 1999.
Says Delphi Chassis' Lee, "Chrysler recognizes the unique abilities that we
and our sister divisions in Delphi Automotive can contribute in terms of
advanced technology and systems integration. We are proud to be a primary
supplier-partner with Chrysler and will continue to do everything in our power
to meet all of their requirements for improved product quality, delivery
performance and cost reduction."