Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Long Before Debut, Minivans Eluded Spy Photogs

Steve Jakubiec

Steve Jakubiec is Senior Manager of Minivan Vehicle Synthesis

Long before the new 2008 minivans debuted at the Detroit auto show, my fellow Chrysler engineers and I logged more than 150,000 miles in these vehicles, testing everything from handling, noise and vibration, and fuel economy, to DVD controls. We were committed to a philosophy of extensive interface with the vehicle as a customer. With the significant number of features in this van, it was necessary to make sure everything was easy to use for customers.

One of our biggest worries was making sure that the big secret – the second-row Swivel ‘n Go seats – wasn’t shot by a spy photographer or anybody else. We couldn’t let the secret out.

Avoiding the spy photographers was a real pain in the butt, especially with the advent of camera phones. We employed evasive maneuvers to ensure good stability on the road, as well as to get away from people attempting to take pictures.

We were constantly reminding each other to quickly close doors at rest stops or restaurants, and we were forbidden to lower the second-row windows at any time.

But even with the windows up, we realized people could still see through the back glass tinted window so we had to visit an auto parts store and put extra reflective tape put on the back and side windows to keep out prying eyes.

With the camouflage, as strange as it looks, we’d have people constantly try to figure out what we were doing. We told some inquisitive people that the checkered vehicles (taped to make their shapes harder to distinguish) were used for testing alternative paint concepts. Some people actually liked the look.

Except for the camouflage, the trips at times were like any ordinary road trip. With so many customer features, we needed to spend extensive time on the road testing all the features of the vehicle, just like our customers would. The multimedia dual second- and third-row DVD systems received quite a workout.

We burned through a significant number of batteries due to constant radio contact between vehicles, constantly comparing driving conditions and relaying information back to technical experts in Auburn Hills.

A tremendous amount of time was invested while traveling on the road. Some days, we’d put in 600 and 700 miles, comparing everything from road surfaces to exterior conditions to entertainment systems.

Making our long day even longer, we would have to spend another hour loading the minivans into a trailer, so they wouldn’t be seen and were secure. Every morning, it would take another hour to unload. Even before we hit the road, we would sometimes run cold start-up tests or a variety of additional functionality tests, particularly in cold weather.

All together, we put over 150,000 miles throughout the development cycle we sure did get sick of fast-food restaurants!

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