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What's new? Jeep Renegade

The first fully integrated development project since the merger of Fiat and Chrysler was a transatlantic affair that pioneered testing processes and standards that will be used by FCA going forward


After several years of working together, Fiat and Chrysler officially become one company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in 2014. The corporate reorganization coincided with the launch of the first product to have been developed by a joint team from the very beginning – the Jeep Renegade.

The Renegade is a small SUV on the small-wide platform architecture also found underneath the Fiat 500L. The new Fiat 500X is a close relation of the Renegade and falls under the same vehicle line team; the two were developed in parallel by separate but cooperating engineering teams, both based in Italy.

However, the development program for Renegade was led by Art Anderson (pictured) from Jeep’s NAFTA product development team. It undertook major portions of the test program, including visits to familiar Jeep destinations such as Moab and Death Valley. The close cooperation between Anderson and Mauro Pierallini, Fiat-Chrysler’s head of engineering for EMEA, was a feature of the Renegade project. On speaking to them, their respect for each other and their respective teams’ expertise shines through.

“We’ve been working together for five years now, says Pierallini, who first visited Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Michigan base in 2009. “We’ve harmonized all the specifications in terms of design and testing – that’s a tremendous amount of knowledge across the two companies. We know how to replicate, reproduce and anticipate the toughest situations the car will encounter during its lifetime.

“The Italian team for instance learnt a lot about durability testing. Chrysler had the SXV [durability cycle], with some very tough test surfaces. In European use there are many more curves so the lateral acceleration that the vehicles encounter is more than in the USA. We took the vertical inputs from the USA and added the lateral ones, and SXV+ was born.”

The Renegade was the first FCA product to be put through the new SXV+ durability cycle, as well as undergoing ORD (Off-Road Durability) – an additional package of testing. Remarkably, no structural modifications to the body-in-white were necessary after the cycle. “The key was that we knew the full mission of what we wanted before we started,” says Anderson. “We didn’t get halfway through and add another condition, as sometimes happens on other projects, meaning you have to start over.”

The durability testing was done at Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan, as was the validation of the functional objectives, automatic transmission development, some cross-checking of crash test results from Europe, and sign-off on all the NAFTA-market driveline tunings, powertrain calibration and emissions (FCA always conducts these in the local market).

Another area in which Pierallini says his team could learn from US colleagues was in developing off-road performance, with some of Jeep’s test tracks now replicated at Fiat’s Balocco test center. “I was one of the fathers of the Panda 4x4 and I used to joke that I could do with a Panda what they could do with a Jeep!” he laughs. “But it wasn’t really true…”

Meanwhile, Fiat was sharing its experience with diesel engine applications, among other things. “We learnt a tremendous amount about requirements for the European market from the experience at Fiat,” says Anderson. “Together, we learnt to listen to each other really well. If there was a concern from either side, then we listened and acted together.”

He says that during the course of the past few years, the US and Italian teams have learned how to make best use of computer systems and human resources on both sides of the Atlantic. A major program of harmonization has brought different business systems and testing processes together.

“The main commercial simulation tools for crash, durability, dynamics and CFD are the same,” Anderson continues. “But the way that these were used in the design process, and integrated into the physical validation, was different, so we had to work together to get the same outcome. It was about integrating the modeling: looking at the conditions under which you were running the assessments, understanding which test parameters drive the model. For SXV, the methodology to get the data acquisition was different, so we had to figure out how to translate the files to get them into the same [format]. Those are startup things that all organizations go through when you begin to do projects together.”

“The big stuff is done,” adds Pierallini, “but it’s a never-ending piece of work, because by the time you’ve fixed something, there will always be something new to work on…”

The Renegade has its roots in the 500L’s architecture, on which work started in October 2010. The go-ahead for the Renegade project was given only in December 2012 following a 10-month feasibility phase. A “pretty fast” 21-month development program then began that led ultimately to Job One on August 25, 2014.

The first physical prototypes arrived six months into the development program. There were no old-style, handbuilt prototypes here – even the first mule cars had a production-intent underbody. Process verification cars were then built in the Melfi plant using production tooling (albeit incorporating some prototype elements); these underwent six months of physical validation. About 1,000 prototype and pre-production cars were built in total.

Of course, extensive virtual validation had already been done before the first prototypes hit the road. Notes Anderson, “We used the road test simulator to accelerate our experience with the chassis and structural behavior.”

When the going gets tough

Jeep insists that, in line with its off-road heritage, the Renegade will cope better off the asphalt than its rivals in the small-SUV segment. Key benchmarks for the development team were the Škoda Yeti and MINI Countryman for Europe (the big-selling Nissan Juke was seen more as a rival for the Fiat 500X); for the US market, the Countryman and Juke were in focus. All were sent round an off-road ‘qualification test’ at FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds.

“Every Jeep will do this route,” says Art Anderson. “We call it Jeep 101. The others didn’t come close to getting round.” He adds that the Renegade has better off-road performance than the larger Jeep Compass and has completed some of the entry trails to the Rubicon Trail in California.

It’s not all about extreme off-roading, however. Some off-road routes in the Alps, close to Turin and high above the Winter Olympic village, were used in the development of a suspension setup that’s designed to give the driver confidence in a mild off-road situation, such as a long dirt or gravel driveway.

“You can talk about the car’s extreme capability, but maybe only one customer in a thousand will need something like that,” admits Pierallini. “We took care of taking a much easier route, comfortably and surprisingly quickly. It’s about building customer confidence.”


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