DETROIT -- Chrysler Group has begun manufacturing the new Pentastar V-6 engine, which eventually will replace seven V-6 engines at the automaker.
The redesigned 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which goes into production in the second quarter, will be the first vehicle to get the engine.
On the Grand Cherokee, the 3.6-liter Pentastar will crank out 290 hp and will be about 20 percent lighter than the V-6 that powers the current Grand Cherokee, said Paolo Ferrero, Chrysler senior vice president of powertrain.
The Pentastar will account for about 40 percent of all Chrysler engines by 2014 and will make a big contribution to Chrysler's goal of improving fuel economy by 25 percent by 2014, he said.
“It will be applied to a huge number of vehicles,” Ferrero said.
The new engine can accommodate turbochargers and Fiat's fuel-saving MultiAir injection system, which the Italian automaker will bring to North America.
It will take Chrysler about two years to phase in the new engine and replace the seven V-6s. The Pentastar could power Fiat vehicles eventually, Ferrero said.
Dan Knott, Chrysler head of purchasing, said annual output eventually could reach 900,000. That number gives Chrysler huge economies of scale compared with the existing V-6s, most of which account for about 100,000 units a year, he said.
The Pentastar engine has 26 major components, compared with 174 total for the seven outgoing engine families.
The Pentastar is being manufactured at Chrysler's new $364 million Trenton South Engine Plant near Detroit, where Chrysler officials and political dignitaries gathered for a Job One celebration Friday.
The plant is next to Chrysler's Trenton North Engine Plant, which is still operating. The company is evaluating what to do with Trenton North.
The Pentastar also will be produced at a second engine plant in Saltillo, Mexico, which will open this year.
Scott Garberding, Chrysler head of manufacturing, said Trenton South, when fully operational, will have 300-plus fewer workers than currently at the north plant.
Running at peak capacity, Trenton South will employ about 500 workers who will be divided into three crews, each working a 40-hour weekly shift, Garberding said.
Dan Haws, a shop steward for UAW Local 372 at the Trenton plant, said the union is negotiating to try to get workers eventually displaced there to transfer to Chrysler's four-cylinder engine plant in Dundee, Mich., or other Chrysler plants.
He said the Trenton engine and Dundee plants have similar operating rules, including a provision for 10-hour shifts four days a week.