A slipup at a supplier plant has resulted in a recall of more than 500 Plymouth Prowlers and a promise from DaimlerChrysler to replace any defective Prowler roadster with a new car.
The recall was triggered when Alcoa Automotive Structures discovered last August that about 100 suspension parts had entered the production stream without being properly heat treated. Alcoa Automotive Structures is an Alcoa Inc. unit that supplies the Prowler's aluminum frame and suspension.
Because the parts were not sufficiently hardened during the heat treatment, they could break and possibly cause a loss of steering control or handling.
Roger Pinkelman, manager of the Alcoa plant, said the parts mixup actually occurred at an Alcoa sub-supplier that makes suspension castings. He declined to identify the company.
He said the problem was caused by loading unfinished castings into a bin with those that had been heat treated. Steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence.
DaimlerChrysler is inspecting 542 of its 1999-model Prowlers that were assembled from May to August. They could have been fitted with the 100 substandard parts. D/C said no Prowlers were involved in any accidents or breakdowns caused by the suspension parts in question.
Dealer stocks of Prowlers have been inspected, and bad parts were found in four cars. Another 30 of the suspect parts were found at the Alcoa plant in Northwood, Ohio, and at D/C's Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit, where the car is built.
That leaves about 66 parts still to be found, Pinkelman said. More than one of those parts could be on a single car. But some Prowler owners have the roadsters in winter storage and won't make the cars available for inspection until the spring, he said.
Nowell Herman, president and founder of the 700-member Official Plymouth Prowler Club in Jackson, N.J., said owners began receiving recall notices in early January. He noted that some Prowler enthusiasts may have already customized their cars and wouldn't be happy with a stock replacement.
Others, he said, may have driven their Prowlers several thousand miles and might welcome a new car.
'For the owners of customized Prowlers, it's a tragedy,' Herman said. 'But for others, it may be a blessing.'
Still, he gave D/C high marks for its handling of the recall, saying Prowler owners had been treated wonderfully.
A little pizzazz
Plymouth sold 2,365 Prowlers in 1999, according to the Automotive News Data Center. DaimlerChrysler is dropping the Plymouth brand and has not announced production plans for the Prowler beyond the 2001 model year.
The 2000 Prowler carries a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $44,900, including $700 destination charge. Dealer premiums can push the price higher. Latham Motors, a Plymouth dealer in Twin Falls, Idaho, is advertising two new Prowlers on its Web site for $50,500 each.
When production began in July 1997, Chrysler Corp. used the limited-production roadster to add a little pizzazz to Plymouth showrooms.
But the Prowler also had a practical purpose. Its aluminum-intensive construction, including the frame and some body panels, was a test bed to study new materials and assembly techniques. Aluminum, because of its light weight, has been viewed as a promising material for building fuel-efficient cars.
For the recall, the identification of bad Prowler parts involves a quick read from a test instrument. The process does not involve any mechanical work.
'We can check the vehicles at the owners' homes, if they prefer,' Pinkelman said.
Because the replacement of the suspension part requires an extensive teardown of the car, DaimlerChrysler will replace the affected Prowlers at no cost. The returned vehicles will be refitted with good parts and sold to the public with a disclosure of the repair history, DaimlerChrysler spokesman Dave Wilkins said.
Neither DaimlerChrysler nor Alcoa would say who will shoulder the cost of the recall.
Said Pinkelman: 'We're confident that we've fixed this so it can't happen again.'