Chrysler Group President and CEO Dieter Zetsche joined more than 2,000 employees at the Newark (Del.) Assembly Plant Oct. 9 to launch the official production of the all-new, larger 2004 Dodge Durango. The event signaled the advent of an unprecedented string of new product launches for the Chrysler Group. “Today marks the beginning of 10 new product launches for Chrysler, Jeep® and Dodge by the end of 2004 and our manufacturing operations play a critical role in the successful introduction of these vehicles,” said Zetsche. “The same rigorous efforts at Newark Assembly that have improved quality and flexibility will be incorporated into our other plants as we ramp up for new vehicle production.” The All-New 2004 Dodge Durango At approximately seven inches longer, three inches taller and three inches wider than the previous Durango, the 2004 Dodge Durango is a large SUV with the drivability, fuel efficiency and price of a full-size competitor, according to Chrysler Group. For 2004, the Dodge Durango starts with an all-new, stand-alone platform and an all-new hydro-formed and fully boxed frame for added stiffness and refinement. "With a three-inch-longer wheelbase and a new coil spring rear suspension with a Watt-link design, Durango out-handles the competition, while delivering a smooth, refined ride," Chrysler Group said in a press release. Dodge Durango matches or betters the large SUV competition in towing capability and interior space, according to Chrysler Group. It has a towing capacity of 8,950 pounds and features a 15 percent increase in cargo volume with 102.4 cubic feet of cargo space. With its third-row seat folded, Durango beats out other large SUVs, including the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia, Chrysler Group said. The vehicle features a new trio of engines that deliver a 10 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. They include the 5.7-liter HEMI® Magnum engine, delivering a best-in-class horsepower and torque rating, as well as the 4.7-liter Magnum V-8 and the 3.7-liter Magnum V-6. The all-new 2004 Dodge Durango will be available in dealerships across the country beginning Nov. 15. Details related to Durango pricing will be announced prior to the dealer launch. The new model's residual value will be above the one it replaces, according to Chrysler Group. $180 Million Invested The Chrysler Group invested about $180 million in the Newark Assembly Plant in preparation for production of the all-new Durango. Through flexible manufacturing strategies and reusing existing plant equipment, the company said it has been able to reduce initial capital expenditures by 30 percent. “The all-new Dodge Durango will offer more vehicle options than its predecessor, and will be produced more efficiently, requiring fewer production hours per vehicle,” said Tom LaSorda, Chrysler Group executive vice president, manufacturing. “We are demonstrating through the launch of this vehicle that flexibility can be applied to an existing, and quite mature, manufacturing operation.” Engineering, Procurement and Supply and Manufacturing Collaboration From the outset, Chrysler Group’s Engineering, Procurement and Supply and Manufacturing organizations worked together to develop the all-new Dodge Durango, ensuring the highest levels possible for quality, safety and manufacturing flexibility, according to the company. This concept, commonly known as “design for manufacturing,” involved a comprehensive review of the previous Durango development and production processes. “Designers and engineers were joined in a common effort – to produce a vehicle that meets the customers’ highest quality standards the first time it rolls off the line,” Zetsche said. Further, plant employees were engaged early in the development process, according to Chrysler Group. Their input prompted engineers to reconsider aspects of the vehicle’s design and assembly process. It also led to the introduction of new ergonomic approaches, thereby creating a safer work environment for employees, the company said. This broad approach to vehicle development also involved various partners, ranging from plant tooling and equipment producers to vehicle parts suppliers. As a result, the assembly process has been streamlined, despite the addition of more options on the vehicle, Chrysler Group said. Quality Verified 125 Times per Vehicle Newark Assembly also instituted an extensive quality program that integrates more than 125 unique quality checks throughout the production process, from the body shop to final assembly and pre-shipment to dealers, according to Chrysler Group. The basis for the program was customer feedback and assembly benchmarking both within and outside the company. The new quality verification processes enable employees at all levels to identify and resolve quality issues during production. It is expected that these actions will help lower future warranty costs, according to the company. From Tanks to Robots The Newark facility was originally built in 1950 to assemble tanks for the military. At that time, it was considered a state-of-the-art complex. Today, the plant takes the assembly process to new levels through the use of robotics and other forms of technology, according to Chrysler Group. The facility underwent a conversion to re-tool existing equipment and processes, enabling both the new Dodge Durango and its predecessor to be built simultaneously on the same production lines. The plant also minimized the amount of time required to change over plant equipment from the previous production model to the one that is being launched today. Nearly 300 robots were put in place for production of the all-new Durango, most of them installed in the new body shop. The body shop was created in pre-existing, unused space at the plant. Also, tooling from the old shop was utilized, thus furthering cost efficiency. Within the paint shop, two new processes and technology have been added to the line to give Durango a smooth, quiet ride in all types of road conditions: PUR foam application and Liquid Applied Sound Deadener system (LASD). PUR foam is a patented noise suppression adhesive that is injected into the body of the vehicle to minimize noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). The second technology, LASD, is an underbody system that applies a liquid compound to the vehicle’s floor pan. This sound deadening fluid is applied in a highly precise motion by robots and helps reduce noise inside the vehicle. Newark Assembly is one of the few automotive paint shops in the world that utilizes a patented “Super Solids” clear coat technology for improved scratch and mar resistance, while reducing paint emissions by 25 percent, according to the company.