Answers to some of the auto industry's technological questions could come more quickly with Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz AG swapping notes.
In Europe and the United States, regulatory pressure is mounting for cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars. Small engines, fuel cells and high-pressure direct injection use technologies that could address that demand.
In the near term, Chrysler's experience building low-cost four-cylinder engines could benefit Daimler-Benz. The traditionally cost-is-no-object automaker is venturing into lower market segments.
Daimler-Benz last year introduced a family of modular V-6 and V-8 engines that are lighter and cheaper to build. But its current family of 1.8-liter to 2.3-liter four cylinders are expensive and complex and are based on a decade-old design. The under-floor engines in the European A-class subcompact are likely too specialized for wider application.
CHRYSLER, BMW TEAM UP
Meanwhile, Chrysler is honing its four-cylinder expertise in a joint venture with BMW AG to produce conventional 1.4-liter and 1.6-liter engines in Brazil. The engine, which Chrysler designed, is slated to go into the next-generation Chrysler Neon as well as vehicles from BMW's Rover Group.
'Chrysler has learned a lot from the venture,' says analyst Jim Hall with the AutoPacific Group in Southfield, Mich. 'If BMW is willing to put the engine in a Rover, they must feel pretty confident about it.'
In the long term, Chrysler could benefit from Daimler-Benz's work in high-pressure direct injection and fuel cells. Both technologies are identified by the joint Big 3-U.S. government Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles as leading contenders in the race to develop an 80-mpg car.
Daimler-Benz has made it a policy to develop advanced direct-injection engines. The company is working on a 2.7-liter direct-injection diesel six-cylinder for the European M-class sport-utility as well as a 4.0-liter direct-injection diesel V-8 for the next-generation S class.
FUEL CELLS WITH FORD
The V-8 uses a high-pressure common rail system from Robert Bosch GmbH. Common-rail technology is considered key to making diesels clean enough to pass tougher emissions standards and smooth enough to reintroduce diesels to North America.
Daimler-Benz also has promised to start limited production of a fuel-cell-powered vehicle by 2004. The company is in a joint venture with Ford Motor Co. and Ballard Power Systems of Vancouver, British Columbia, to develop and mass-produce fuel cells. The effort is considered the leading contender in the race to commercialize fuel cells.
Much of Chrysler's work on fuel cells focuses on extracting hydrogen - the fuel cell's power source - from gasoline aboard the vehicle.
Says Hall: 'If fuel-cell technology pans out, (a merger) would give Chrysler a leg up and put them substantially ahead of where they are now.'