Fiat Chrysler plans to speed up its product development

26 December 2019 - Autoblog

Fiat Chrysler plans to speed up its product development

Fiat Chrysler is streamlining its global product development process in a bid to bring new or updated models to showrooms more quickly, reflecting heightened consumer expectations but also massive technological upheavals brought by things like electric vehicles, self-driving cars and ever more strident safety regulations.

FCA recently announced plans to flatten its corporate product development structure across its global properties to reduce complexity, speed decision making and get products to the market faster than the years it can take today. It's similar to what Jim Hackett has been trying to do across town at Ford. FCA Chief Technology Officer Harald Wester, who is also executive chairman of Maserati, will oversee the reorganized product development unit.

The company says it has already committed €9 billion — nearly $10 billion at current exchange rates — toward its five-year plan to launch 30 new electrified nameplates globally, with plug-in hybrid versions of the Jeep Compass, Renegade and Wrangler due up first along with a full-electric Fiat car and commercial van. Maserati has also received a €1.6 billion investment to bring about hybrid and battery-electric powertrains, plus Level 3 autonomous capabilities.

“The industry has never experienced technological change at the pace we are now seeing,” CEO Mike Manley said in a statement. “So, we’re unleashing the creative energy of our engineers and technical experts for the benefit of our customers and stakeholders worldwide.”

One of the biggest changes is integrating powertrain and vehicle engineering, previously separate units, in a global process involving more collaboration and better deployment of resources. Engineering will also be supported by five centers of technical competence, including groups that will develop electronic architectures and another focused on advanced technologies. FCA says product development has previously been served by several different organizations that operated as regional sub-groups or standalone units.

Left unmentioned is whether the merger with PSA Group, which will reportedly result in nearly 70 percent of all models produced by the two brands moving to just two PSA platforms, is helping to push the timeline on these changes. FCA is also making greater use of the Alfa Romeo Giorgio platform, planning it for the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions, told the Detroit Free Press that Fiat and Chrysler still separately develop cars for Europe and trucks for North America, respectively, with little cooperation on product development.

“These new architectures provide a basis for greater parts sharing across models and better connectivity within the vehicle and between the vehicle and its surroundings,” he said.

Even if the initiative is successful at FCA, it remains to be seen whether a combined FCA-PSA can similarly flatten and simplify entire business units. Fusing the cultures of two companies is famously complicated, especially companies of this size.

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