Selection of Prowler Products!"
Workers applaud milestone for car that is hand-built
By Detroit News wire services
DETROIT -- Surrounded by the workers who built it
by hand, the 10,000th
slowly rolled off the line at the Conner Avenue assembly plant Tuesday,
five years after the first one was produced.
The group of about 20 workers cheered and applauded as a colleague drove
the bright orange car past them, honking the hot rod's horn and revving
Henry Pettway, the man co-workers nicknamed Mr.
because he has worked at the plant since the first
production in 1996, said the secret to the retro-looking rod's
success is simple.
"Old style and new technology. The two of them work together real well,"
he said as he beamed at the milestone car.
"We really handle these cars with kid gloves," said co-worker Philip
Unlike many other
production vehicles, the
assembled on a continuously moving line. Each one is built by hand by a
group of hand-picked workers who produce just 14 a day.
"You have to be interviewed to be accepted," James Hardy, financial
secretary of United Auto Workers Local 212. "It's the best of the best."
introduced as a concept vehicle in 1993 at the Detroit auto show. It
proved to be a crowd magnet that persuaded
build a production
version for the 1997 model year.
"The thought behind the car was we're just going to build a car that's in
a unique position in the market that really played off on the emotional
attractiveness and the passion some people have for cars," said Steve
Bartoli, director of
Chrysler brand marketing.
The company purposely built the
low volumes to maintain quality and the car's mystique.
will continue because demand for the vehicle remains strong, even
as the Plymouth brand that launched the car nears its end,
"As long as the market remains strong, we don't see any reason to end
The automaker discussed killing off the
when the Plymouth brand ends this year. The car began as a Plymouth
in 1997 and was switched to the
brand in January.
sales rose 11 percent in 2000 in the United States to 2,631, though
they fell 31 percent to 941 this year through May with the brand change.
Monthly sales have climbed back to the 200 to 300 the company needs,
Bartoli said. The
Prowler has inspired car clubs nationwide. Plymouth-Chrysler
Club member Rick Gallaher, 56, of Minneapolis, said he just had to have
"It's everything I've ever wanted in a car," said Gallaher, who owns a
"It's three cars in one: a sports car, a luxury car, a street car."
The two-seater is fairly pricey, starting at about $45,400.
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The Plymouth Prowler: Aluminum Intensity &
Intensity of Purpose
This month, the Prowler hits the streets as a
production automobile. It is a study not only in taking chances in design,
but also in pushing the envelope in materials application.
By Gary S. Vasilash, Editor-In-Chief
When Chrysler unveiled the Plymouth Prowler in Detroit at the 1993
North American International Auto Show, it was a concept car. Concept cars
tend to be stunning examples of designers' imaginations, of what could be,
only if...At the 1997 North American International Auto Show the Prowler
is, in effect, akin to the Neon and the Breeze. Like them, it is a
production car. Of course, this is not your run-of-the-mill vehicle.
For one thing, beneath that purple paint there are more than 900 pounds
of aluminum. Given that the whole thing tips the scales at 2,780 pounds,
and given the fact that aluminum is light, that is, to say the very least,
a lot of aluminum. The point is: This hot rod is not only out-of-the-box
in terms of the design thinking that's behind it, it is also way out there
in terms of driving forward alternative approaches to productionizing the
Consider this, for example. For years, commercial aircraft have been
riveted. Cars, on the other hard, have been welded, typically with
resistance welding. But what if spot welds were replaced with rivets? The
Chrysler engineers—as the company's ad says—questioned everything. And
they asked a question about rivets and welds. And although there is
welding on the Prowler—a prime example is the frame, as will be noted
below—the spot welds are replaced by rivets. Of course, rivets have
typically taken longer to apply than spot welds, and since cycle time is
key in automotive, there was a concern about the riveting time
requirement. So it was a matter of pushing that technology forward. Rivets
are placed on the Prowler in a one-second cycle. (One interesting aspect
of using this mechanical joining method: sheets of different thicknesses
can be put together.) But then there is the issue of stiffness. Which led
to the need to utilize epoxy adhesives. So now there is a combination of
technologies, with rivets used in combination with adhesives. The result
is a structure with a stiffness that's improved by 40%.
"At Chrysler," says Dr. Saad M. Abouzahr, Prowler Materials Executive,
Team Prowler, "we approach new technology with an open mind. If it is the
best way, then we do it." As so with Prowler, they did just that.
As Abouzahr admits, there is a wealth of know-how existing relating to
how to process steel for automotive production. There isn't a comparable
knowledge base existent for aluminum. But as Chrysler, like all carmakers,
faces the need to develop vehicles that are lighter and therefore which
provide more miles per gallon, there is the need to start aggressively
climbing the learning curve so that there are material alternatives.
Chrysler has worked with aluminum before. Abouzahr references, for
example, the "Neon Lite" project that was conducted in 1994. "We learned
quite a bit about processing," Abouzahr admits. They did weld bonding,
riveting, and rivet bonding on that vehicle which was, as the name
implies, an aluminized version of the existing steel-architecture Neon. By
replacing steel panels with aluminum, the body weight was cut by 50%;
overall, a 25% weight reduction was achieved for the Neon Lite. But the
resultant vehicle, while incredibly stiff (Abouzahr notes that the
combination of adhesives and rivets helps create an excellent assembly so
far as stiffness—which contributes good noise, vibration and harshness [NVH]
measuresis concerned) was also incredibly stiff vis-à-vis financial
The Prowler program is not about taking an existing design and then
making it an alternative version. Rather, it is starting with the clean
screen and developing a vehicle and the requisite process technology so
that the Prowler is a production car, not a one-off, albeit a
comparatively minimal production vehicle. This month the Prowler goes into
production at the Chrysler Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit. The
projected first-year volume: 3,000 vehicles. Conner, incidentally, happens
to be where another innovative vehicle is built: the Dodge Viper.
"We've never built a vehicle like this," Abouzahr says, citing, for
example, the frame. Ordinarily, he explains, car frames are steel that's
been stamped or roll formed. In the case of the Prowler, the components
are extrusions and castings produced with 6061 and 6063 aluminum alloys,
T6 temper. The pieces are then joined with MIG welding. There is quite a
bit of welding: 105 feet of MIG welding per frame. Abouzahr points out
that arc welding is something that's usually avoided whenever possible
when working with steel, due to warpage concerns. The assembled aluminum
frame is measured post-welding; any deviations from nominal dimensions are
corrected through machining. That's right: the entire frame is fixtured
With regard to the body tub, however, steel technology had a lot to do
with what is being done. That is, although the tub components are, for the
most part, 5454-0 aluminum alloy, Abouzahr explains that they are stamped
components. Stamping steel is well understood. In the case of Prowler,
steel dies are usedjust as they would be if the tub was fabricated with
steel components. "In principle," Abouzahr admits, "it is the same
Without a doubt, the Prowler is an aluminum-intensive vehicle. In
addition to the previously mentioned components, there are aluminum
A357-T6 control arms, rocker arms and knuckles. Aluminum alloy 6022-T6 is
used for the hood, decklid, doors, and hood side panels. Various castings
are made from A-356-T6. There is an aluminum seat frame. There is an
aluminum-composite material used for the brake rotors.
But the idea behind the development of the vehicle wasn't to use
aluminum everywhere, just in places that made sense. So, for
example, the front hinge pillar reinforcement and the tapping plates are
made with cold-rolled low-carbon steel. Sheet molding compound (SMC) is
used for the front and rear quarter panels, the rear valance panel and the
fenders. Acrylonitryle-butadiene-styrene (ABS) plastic is used for the
grill. Reaction injection molding (RIM) urethane is used for the front
fasica and front and rear bumper covers. The frame for the instrument
panel is a magnesium casting (this single casting combines 20 stamped or
molded pieces into a single part).
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The Supplier Story.
But the whole Prowler program is not just about materials. Prowler
represents "how to make a car" in another sense, this related to those
companies that are working with Chrysler to produce the car. In Chrysler
parlance, this is known as the "Extended Enterprise."
All automotive companies use suppliers. The relationships that exist
between the customers and the suppliers are what provide the
distinguishing characteristics from OEM to OEM, and as a greater emphasis
is put on (1) supply chain management and (2) core competencies, those
relations are increasingly important.
The issue is fundamentally one of success. The question is how the
people involved work with one another. Historically, the relationship was
characterized in the U.S. auto industry more by conflict than cooperation.
The OEMs were the customers, and the customer, as the saying has had it
for too many years, is always right. This often manifests itself as: "This
is what we want. This is how you make it. And this is the price you are
going to sell it for." What was more than implied was that if the supplier
didn't cross the proverbial "t"s and dot the "i"s, the customer would go
elsewhere for the product. After all, there was undoubtedly more than one
supplier providing the very same product to the very same OEM—just in
When the Japanese auto manufacturers started providing vehicles that
had exemplary quality and comparatively lower costs vis-à-vis the
then-prevailing U.S. products, how they were able to accomplish that feat
became a focus of study. One of the discoveries was that the OEM-supplier
relationship in Japan tended to be one characterized by the striving for
mutual benefit. This was not the effect of some Eastern altruism. Rather,
the Japanese OEMs often had a stake—a financial one—in the supplier
companies. The term is keiretsu. It is not hard to figure out
how—and why—this works. The suppliers are part of the OEM organization. So
their ideas about how things can be done have credibility. Contrast this
with an underlying suspicion that whatever a supplier might suggest is
probably predicted on self-interest, not mutual gain. In the Japanese
arrangement, there is a basis of shared gain because even though the
relationships might be arms-length (i.e., independent operations), there
is a recognition that the fingers at the ends of the arms are important to
how well those arms will function.
Chrysler is a company that aims to do more with less. Approximately 70%
of the components in its vehicles come from outside suppliers. One
alternative it had with regard to creating better relationships with its
suppliers would be for Chrysler—a la the Japanese—to buy into its
suppliers. But Chrysler can be characterized by a brilliant frugality.
Thomas T. Stallkamp, executive vice president-Procurement & Supply (and
general manager-Minivan Operations), and his colleagues decided that what
they would do is develop, in Stallkamp's phrase, "equity in spirit,"
rather than equity in cash.
An underlying assumption is that the supplier companies are good at
what they do, therefore it is in Chrysler's best interest to let them do
it as long as it is in the best interest of the company. Further, if the
suppliers recognize that they can gain through working with Chrysler, then
they are more likely to give their all to the initiative. To help assure
that this occurs in practice, Chrysler established the SCORE
program—Supplier Cost Reduction Effort. An objective is to encourage the
suppliers to find better ways and means to develop and manufacture
products so that cost savings realized would be of mutual benefit.
Prowler is an excellent example of this approach in action,
particularly as it pertains to the suppliers of aluminum. Although there
are multiple suppliers of the material—ALCOA, Alumax, and Duralcan—this is
not the classic case of pitting one supplier against the other. Rather,
each of the companies has a particular expertise. So ALCOA provides frame,
bumper and body material. Alumax provides suspension components. And
Duralcan provides aluminum rotor material. The customer wins in the end.
Gale on the Prowler
Thomas C. Gale, until December 5, 1996, was Chrysler's vice
president-Product Design and International Operations. Thus, the Prowler
design activities occurred under his watch. We talked with him on December
4th about the Prowler. On the 5th he was named executive vice
president-Product Development. He still leads design, but has added
engineering and product strategy to his concerns. (International
Operations were assigned to Francois J. Castaing, who is also the general
"First and foremost," Gale said, "Prowler is an attempt to create an
image for the Plymouth brand in a way not unlike what Viper did for
Dodge." That the two vehicles are made in the same plant is probably not a
Not only is Prowler something out there for people to see—Gale noted,
"the product-as-billboard is valid in this case" and he said that people
who have a Prowler ought to plan to spend plenty of time talking about it
every time they park it—but it also provides a boost for Chrysler
employees: "It is a strong inspiration inside the company." Gale said that
there are concerted efforts by senior executives within the organization
to help change the culture so that people will feel proud of what they are
doing. "We want everyone to feel a certain amount of ownership—which is
critical to success," he maintained.
"We must have a passion for what we do,"
Gale stated. Does Prowler help foster a sense of passion throughout the
organization, whether the person is a designer or a machinist?
"Absolutely," he firmly replied.
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Chrysler's Prowler: more than
a material showcase, it's a real product - car uses
light-weight, innovative materials and off-the-shelf
1996 by Drew Winter
Anyone wondering why Chrysler
Corp. has some of the world's lowest product-development
costs should visit their local Plymouth showroom early
next year. Sitting there, briefly, in a few lucky
dealerships, will be one of the more technologically
impressive production vehicles to come along in some time.
Even if you hate its
retro-style looks, pull your nose up at its mundane 3.5L
engine, and sneer at Chrysler's low-cost "let's use only
off-the-shelf components from our parts bin" development
strategy. No matter what, the Plymouth Prowler is a heck
of a showcase for lightweight materials technology,
* A lightweight aluminum
body structure with full-perimeter frame made of aluminum
castings and extrusions and featuring innovative
self-piercing rivet and adhesive bonding techniques for
* Body panels made of a brand-new 6022 aluminum alloy that
breaks new ground in strength and formability.
* Other body panels made of a new SMC (sheet molding
composite) that is lighter and more flexible than
conventional SMC material.
* Aluminum suspension components made with a new
semi-solid forging process that produces engineering
properties formerly unheard of for such parts.
* A giant magnesium instrument panel support structure
that not only saves weight but consolidates parts and cuts
* Aluminum composite brake rotors that are half the weight
of conventional cast iron.
Granted, most automakers are working on experimental
lightweight vehicle development programs, but the Prowler
-- thanks to heavy technological commitments from
suppliers -- is a materials showcase with a difference: It
actually will be sold in the marketplace, and quite
possibly at a profit.
Coming to Plymouth
showrooms in the first quarter of 1997, it has
a 5,000-unit plus annual production volume and
a semi-affordable sticker of about $35,000.
Total program cost: about $75 million. In the
world of automotive new-product development,
that's postage stamp money. Not bad for a
company that less than two years ago was
criticized for being too lean and lacking
adequate research and development
That's not to say
other automakers don't have interesting
materials projects under way. The Big Three
all are contributing significant resources to
the Partnership for a New Generation of
Vehicles (PNGV), a joint research project
between the U.S. federal government and their
USCAR technology consortium. It's aimed at
bringing a Taurus-size family car to market
early in the next century that gets triple the
fuel economy of today.
Ford Motor Co. has its aluminum intensive
vehicle (AIV) program, a $25 million fleet of
20 aluminum-bodied Sables, plus
aluminum-bodied Synthesis and Synergy concept
cars. But you can't buy them. General Motors
Corp. has its new EV1 electric car, a
lightweight technological tour-de-force with
an aluminum body structure that goes on sale
this year. You can buy one of those for
$30,000 pr so, but GM says it will never make
a dime of profit on the car.
There also are
light-weight, aluminum-intensive products
available from Japanese and European
automakers, such as the almost-extinct Acura
NSX, the Audi AG A8 and the Lotus Elise -- but
they are very low volume, very expensive -- or
aluminum-bodied Rover sport/utility vehicles
are made in substantial numbers, but they
aren't the least bit lightweight. Neither is
the aluminum-bodied Hummer. That pretty much
leaves the Prowler crouching alone in the
realm of real-world aluminum-intensive
Among the most
interesting elements of its lightweight
strategy is that much of its materials
technology has been directly transferred from
Chrysler's Neon Lite program, unveiled 18
months ago. The program focused on using
advanced -- but semi-practical -- alternative
materials to chop the Neon's weight by 600
lbs. (272 kg) and improve fuel economy by
about 5 mpg. High-priced exotic materials that
clearly couldn't be put into production cost
effectively -- such as carbon fiber composites
-- were ignored.
into using magnesium, glass-reinforced
composites, and lots of aluminum. Francois J.
Castaing, Chrysler's vice president of vehicle
engineering, said then that the automaker
would never introduce an all-aluminum Neon
because it would be too expensive, and
consumers wouldn't be interested in paying 20%
to 25% simply for lighter weight.
However, he did say what was learned would be
transferred to "future vehicle programs." He
practically mouthed the word "Prowler."
In fact, some
engineers at a press event unveiling the Neon
Lite found themselves yanking business cards
out of journalists' hands because they
accidentally gave them new ones featuring
Prowler titles -- and a picture of the car.
Saad M. Abouzahr was one such engineer. He
supervised materials development on the Neon
Lite, and then moved directly from that
position to become materials executive on the
Prowler program. He says the new car's
innovative magnesium instrument panel support
structure, aluminum bonding technology and
aluminum composite brakes all came directly
from Neon Lite research.
these new technologies and actually putting
them into production takes the challenge to a
new level. For instance, it was one thing to
determine that self-piercing rivets combined
with heat-cured adhesives provide the
strongest, most cost-effective approach for
bonding critical joints in aluminum body
structures. It was quite another to actually
devise a production system to do such joints,
even for Prowler's relatively low volume.
But just as the Neon Lite provided a
technological foundation for the Prowler, what
is being learned now in Prowler production
could lead to innovations on much
higher-volume, mainstream vehicles in the
future, Mr. Abouzahr says.
Prowler's most significant materials
supplier Alcoa developed a new high-strength
6022 aluminum alloy for Prowler body panels
that hits new levels in strength and
formability, Mr. Abouzahr says. A
heat-treatable alloy, the aluminum sheet is
initially soft and formable, but after it runs
through the high heat of the paint bake ovens
used to cure automotive paint jobs, it becomes
very strong and stiff, like a bake-hardenable
steel. This material surpasses other special
aluminum body panel alloys such as 6111, which
offers good strength, but is not as formable,
Mr. Abouzahr says.
* Key aluminum
suspension components such as control arms are
created using a new semi-solid forging process
that makes them stronger, tougher and closer
to the desired net shape. In a process similar
to plastic injection molding, small billets of
aluminum are heated until they are soft as
butter and then put into a die. The process
changes the texture and microstructure of the
aluminum. "We're getting properties you've
never heard of getting," Mr. Abouzahr says.
* The Prowler
team also broke new ground in the way aluminum
is supplied. The light metal has two key
drawbacks for automakers, it costs three to
four times as much as steel, and its price
historically is very volatile because it is
traded on world markets as a commodity "like
pork bellies," critics often say. The Prowler
team addressed the latter issue by negotiating
a long-term pricing arrangement with aluminum
suppliers to protect against major price
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