BELVIDERE, Ill. - DaimlerChrysler is shifting some assembly of pre-production units from its technology center to its plants.
By doing so, assembly workers will begin building pre-production vehicles about six months earlier than they normally would. DaimlerChrysler expects this change to bring quicker ramp-up and better quality of new products.
The automaker first tried this approach at the Neon assembly plant here last year.
Job 1 of the 2000 Neon was in December 1998, but workers here began assembling pre-production vehicles in April. In the past, the plant would not assemble a pre-production unit until three months before launch.
The workers in Belvidere made 226 pre-production units of the 2000 Neon before launch, said Gary Henson, DaimlerChrysler's senior vice president of manufacturing.
The pilots were mixed in on the same assembly line with regular production of 1999 models, he said.
Shifting this production to Belvidere was one factor that reduced costs and development time of the 2000 Neon. The car cost $703 million to develop vs. $1.3 billion for the original Neon in 1993.
Development time was 28 months, compared with 31 months for the original Neon.
Getting pre-production units into assembly plants at an earlier date is not unique to the industry; the major Japanese automakers do it now.
But DaimlerChrysler is taking a significant step, said Patricia Watters, vice president of consulting at Harbour and Associates Inc., a manufacturing consulting firm in Troy, Mich.
'They can prove out what works well and expose any problems much further before production than in the past,' she said. This should lead to speedier launches and improve vehicle quality, Watters said.
DaimlerChrysler has three pre-production build phases. The F1 phase, also known as the engineering pilots, will continue to be made at the DaimlerChrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Mich.
F1 units are made about 11/2 years before launch in the center's $22.4 million pilot manufacturing plant.
Opened in May 1992, it performs all assembly plant functions, except stamping sheet metal.
While it will continue to perform the critical F1 phase, Henson wants the assembly plants to get pre-production units as fast as possible.
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The second phase, called the P0 phase, starts about 10 months before launch.
This is the phase that was shifted to Belvidere.
The final C1 phase is three months before launch.
DaimlerChrysler first tried shifting some pre-production assembly during the 1997 Dodge Durango launch.
But the P0 units were not made on the plant's final assembly line.
'Belvidere is the model, it represents the next step to really helping us reduce our product development time and our launch time,' Henson said.
Now DaimlerChrysler will build pre-production JR cars at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, in Sterling Heights, Mich. The JR cars will replace the JA mid-sized cars - the Chrysler Cirrus, Dodge Stratus and Plymouth Breeze - in the 2001 model year.