DETROIT — Chrysler LLC wants to reclaim its engineering prowess after nine years as a division of DaimlerChrysler AG.
As part of the effort, the company will launch a series of features in several 2009 vehicles and is applying for patents on two of them. Two features are designed to improve safety and one is slated to improve fuel economy.
Chrysler claims an industry first on its active transfer case/front axle disconnect system, which will be offered on some or all of the company's rear-drive cars, such as the Chrysler 300C. It also may appear on the 2009 Dodge Charger.
"You get all-wheel drive with the same fuel economy of rear-wheel drive," says Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president of product development.
It works by turning an awd car into rwd by decoupling the front axle and transfer case so that 100 percent of the power shifts to the rear wheels.
"The whole idea is to take rotating mass (of the front axle) out of the equation," says Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa.
The resulting reduction in friction yields a 1 mpg improvement in fuel economy, he says. Chrysler developed the system with supplier Warn Industries Inc., a Clackamas, Ore., maker of automotive drivetrain systems and other equipment. Chrysler is applying for a patent.
The company also is offering two new safety features on the 2009 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan minivans.
Chrysler says its Blind Spot Monitoring system will be a first in the minivan segment.
"The system continuously monitors the vehicle blind-spot area and detects when a vehicle enters that zone," Cappa says. "It lets you know if a vehicle is in that zone via a triangular icon that lights up in the sideview mirrors."
Chrysler developed the system with supplier Visteon Corp. Although Chrysler initially will offer it only with the minivans, "obviously there's potential to apply it to other vehicles," Cappa says.
Chrysler is claiming an industry first for its Rear Cross Path system, also to be offered initially on minivans. The system is designed to help drivers get out of parking areas where visibility is poor, such as parking structures. Using sensors on each side of the rear bumper, the system alerts drivers when a vehicle is about to cross behind the minivan using a chime and an icon in the sideview mirrors.
There's also a fourth feature coming before the end of 2008: an aftermarket system, offered through Chrysler's Mopar parts unit, that allows motorists to convert their vehicles into wireless hot spots for laptop computers and other devices.