When 1 million Pentastar engines aren’t enough

DETROIT -- It took just 18 months for Chrysler Group to build its 1 millionth 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine.

But at the Detroit auto show, Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said Chrysler Group now needs to hit that million mark -- plus another 15 to 20 percent -- every 12 months, and is investing heavily in its engine plants to do so.

Chrysler celebrated output of the millionth Pentastar at its engine plant in Trenton, Mich., late last week.

The plant, along with a factory in Saltillo, Mexico, is supposed to produce 440,000 Pentastars each year to meet demand for hot-selling vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, and the entire Chrysler-brand lineup. Both plants have been working overtime to try to keep up with demand.

But the problem, according to Marchionne, is that the automaker needs 1.2 million Pentastar engines each year -- about 36 percent more than its two plants are designed to produce at normal capacity.

In an interview with Automotive News, Marchionne pointed to availability issues with the company’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 as an example of how its increasing sales have stressed supply chains.

“But I need 1.1 million engines a year now,” Marchionne said. “We’re going to get [Pentastar production] up to about 1.15 million units, and we just put in some more money to put it over 1.2 million units.”

Chrysler hasn’t yet clearly revealed why the automaker needs to supercharge its Pentastar V-6 production in 2012, but Marchionne provided a clue.

The CEO said that the Dart -- which will be available only with four-cylinder engines -- is the only new vehicle Chrysler Group will launch this year, “other than the changes that we’re making to Ram.”

The 2012 Ram 1500 comes standard with a 3.7-liter, 215 hp V-6 that produces 235 pounds-feet of torque, compared with the 3.6-liter Pentastar’s 290 hp, which produces 260 pounds-feet of torque.

Marchionne earlier said Chrysler will adopt its new eight-speed automatic transmission technology across the automaker’s rear-wheel-drive platforms.

If Chrysler packages the Pentastar and eight-speed transmission in its next Ram pickup, the combination could be “game-on” in the light-duty pickup segment.

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