Who’s Moving To China? Chrysler Expanding US Operations

After the campaign season’s outlandish claims about Jeep moving to China, comes a breath of fresh air as Chrysler LLC announces the expansion of domestic production with a $238 million investment in two of its Michigan plants, the Mack I Engine Plant in Detroit and the Trenton North Plant in Trenton.

These engine plants are being upgraded for the revolutionary Pentastar V6 engine. The Pentastar, when introduced in 2011, significantly reduced the cost of manufacturing the more popular and fuel-efficient V6 lineup. The new engine cut the component list from 189 parts to just 32, while also reducing weight and enabling the new engine to run just as efficiently on Ethanol, as well as 87 octane gasoline. Originally designed for a variety of displacements (the size of the engine), the first model introduced displaced 3.6 liters, and is currently found on a large number of vehicles in Chrysler’s lineup. The 3.2 liter version of the engine is to debut with the Jeep Liberty and is due to be introduced once the improved tooling and upgrades to these plants is completed.

The difference in engine displacement for the Pentastar is done through a smaller bore (diameter of the cylinders), unlike the older engine, which reduced displacement by changing the stroke of the engine (how far the piston moves within the cylinder). By making this particular change, the new engine can retain more torque over a larger range of sizes. When originally designed, a variety of engines were proposed, ranging from 3 liters to 4, with V8 versions planned for the future. To do this requires a more advanced manufacturing system over the older engine, which is why the plant upgrades are so important in setting a direction for the firm.

Chrysler, historically, does not introduce new engine families often. The Chrysler LA engine family, for example, was introduced in 1964 and remained in service until 2003. More famously, of course, is the G-series, nicknamed the “Slant 6” due to its off-axis design; introduced in 1959 and produced until 2000, it garnered a reputation for its strength and durability. With the migration of of Daimler-developed/produced engines, and Chrysler’s new owners’ adherence to proven designs instead of “development for the sake of development” (Fiat uses the FIRE series of engines for the Fiat 500, introduced in 1984, which replaced an engine series Fiat originally introduced in World War II), we can fully expect to find Pentastar engines in production for a very long time.

This is how a U.S. company operates. Chrysler had the option to produce this engine in Europe, potentially at the Maserati or Alfa Romeo plants, but instead chose to invest here. By so doing, they expand the market for their products here in the U.S. But their design is so good, rumors abound that both the Italian performance branches of the Fiat family tree, Maserati and the legendary Ferrari, are studying the engine for possible use in the future. The use of U.S. made engines in Italian sportscars is nothing new; the DeTomasso Pantera used the same 302 engine found in a variety of Ford muscle cars, so this move, should the rumors be true, would raise few eyebrows…other than perhaps at the Romney household.

And one must wonder how Mitt Romney, still stinging from the pain of his loss, will feel when his next Ferrari comes with a Pentastar logo on the engine block.