February 25, 2014

News & Features

Intricate auto-show displays reveal anatomy of motors

Detroit Free Press

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A Jeep Cherokee transmission sits on display at the recent Detroit auto show. (Diane Weiss / Detroit Free Press)

In the Motor City, some of the most popular models at the Detroit auto show were, in fact, motors. Models of motors were stripped down, enhanced and made-up before hitting the show where thousands ogled their anatomy.

At an auto show, the hoods of the vehicles are typically closed so people don't steal parts as souvenirs. These displays are the only way to see what an engine looks like, and the models were interactive and moving to show how they work.

"You never get a view of an engine like this, even in your own car," says Bo Puffer, Chrysler's shows and events manager.

Chrysler set itself apart with sophisticated engine and transmission displays that were fully painted, chromed and lit, with moving parts to show how they work. Months were spent on some engines to get their looks and moves just right.

Strong year for show
    The recent Detroit auto show had its biggest attendance in more than a decade. Organizers say that attendance was more than 803,000; the last time the show broke 800,000 was in 2003, when it was more than 838,000.
    The Associated Press

There were 11 engine displays throughout the Chrysler stand in Detroit, including the EcoDiesel V-6, 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6 and the nine-speed transmission in the Jeep Cherokee.

"People in Detroit look at engines by far more than any other city," Puffer says. "They are gearheads."

When Chrysler introduces a new engine or transmission, Steve Gorgas, Chrysler's chief engineer with the Pentastar engine program, calls the plant that makes it and requests that one be pulled off the assembly line.

Then Mark Mancini, Chrysler marketing vehicle fleet manager, works with the engineering and development team to ascertain which features should be highlighted and how best to display them.

It is no small effort. About six suppliers are involved in getting an engine show-ready, and the work can take up to eight weeks.

The first step is to figure out the best places to cut into the engine or transmission to show off the internal workings.

Suppliers, including George P. Johnson (GPJ) of Auburn Hills, Mich., usually have at least a dozen painstaking cuts to make with assorted tools and grinding wheels. Sparks fly as the precision work is conducted, often piercing multiple layers.

GPJ has about 150 people in the front office and another 150-200 in assembly who work on displays of all kinds for shows, says Rich Cordova, vice president of client services.
Cordova says many automakers have static powertrain displays, but the animated engines require true craftsmanship to prepare.

Once the cutting is done, the whole engine is taken apart — as many as 300 pieces. Workers look for pieces that aren't needed or visible and can be removed to reduce weight or to create hiding spots for lights and motors. They they snake in the necessary wiring for lighting and animation, Mancini says.

The parts to be used are sent out to be sanded, painted with fine brush strokes or chromed.

Chrysler paints parts for the intake system blue to show the air passageway. The cooling system is painted green. Exhaust is red. Other parts are polished and chromed. The engine is then reassembled with lights and motors to make parts glow and spin.

"It is quite the artwork when it is done," says Gorgas. "We try to satisfy the curiosity of what is in them and highlight the characteristics in a way that appeals to the senses."
"We try to give them the 'wow' factor," he says, "and educate people whether they are a motorhead or not."

The finished product is run for a few days nonstop to test it. Then it's sent to another vendor to make the display stand, including switches to turn it on and meters that track hours of operation to schedule regular maintenance.

The final product, which can weigh up to 500 pounds, is shipped to events around the world.

Mancini says Chrysler has about 20 engines and transmissions in its display fleet, which travels to about 71 annual shows and events in the United States.

"Anywhere there's a gearhead, you want to help show them off," Puffer says.

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