AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Jan. 5 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Lou Rhodes was at
home with his 12-year-old son, Jon, tinkering with an Erector Set when he
realized he could make Stow 'n Go a reality.
It was August 1, 2002 when Chrysler Group's senior management was
presented with low-cost, low tear-up options in order to get seats to fold
onto, not into, the floor of the company's prized Chrysler Town & Country and
Dodge Grand Caravan minivans.
"With competition heating up in the minivan market, fold-on-the-floor
options were simply unacceptable to senior management," said Rhodes, Chrysler
Group's Director of Design Engineering. "They wanted us to leapfrog the
competition and they wanted us to leapfrog fast. Fold-on-the-floor seating
options were quickly discarded and we walked out of the meeting with an
assignment to explore an entirely new proposition; a second- and third-row
fold-in-the-floor seating system."
Led by Rhodes, a newly-created, cross-functional team of seven individuals
was formed to bring second- and third-row fold-in-the-floor seating to market.
But first, Rhodes' small team of three engineers had to design the new seating
From the start, Rhodes wanted something that was going to move the
Chrysler Group ahead of the competition, without compromising the much-needed
storage space desired by customers.
He spent a lot of time with his team as they studied the flow and form of
a variety of gadgets and instruments that were out of the ordinary realm of
most automotive engineers. Sofa beds, drawer hardware, and hinges were
analyzed at length while investigative trips to home supply stores were
carried out regularly.
"My team had the idea and the design but we needed to discover how to
execute the idea from an engineering standpoint," said Rhodes. "Jon and I
spent many nights working with the Erector Set trying to develop different
mock seat models that communicated the execution."
The two assembled and re-assembled model after model. Lou knew what he
wanted the seat to do but was having difficulty explaining it to his team back
at Chrysler Group. Lou took numerous models to his team in order to help
spark design ideas for movement and structure.
"The Erector Set model that we ultimately created conveyed the execution
quickly and helped us visualize what we needed to do differently in order to
achieve our objectives," said Rhodes. "One of the greatest challenges for an
engineer is communicating how to execute an idea. In this case, the Erector
Set model brought Stow 'n Go to life."
Today, Rhodes proudly displays three stressed, worn pieces from the
Erector set on his desk.
"They serve as a daily reminder that good ideas can come from anywhere at
anytime," said Rhodes. "And those worn pieces are a reminder of all the time
and hard work it takes to bring a compelling idea to market."
With the engineering concept in place, the next challenge was to bring
Stow 'n Go to reality.
Design Concept to Reality
With 23 years of company experience under his belt, Bob Feldmaier was
Feldmaier was pulled from his day-to-day duties on August 2, 2002 to be a
part of the newly-created, cross-functional team led by Rhodes. The team
included representation from a variety of areas including design, procurement
& supply, manufacturing, product planning, and program management.
"Four weeks later, on August 29, 2002, we presented the feature Lou
Rhodes' team had developed as well as the business case to senior management,"
said Feldmaier. "We walked out of the meeting with full program approval and
an incredible sense of urgency. Our objective was to bring Stow 'n Go to
market in 2004."
It was a tall order.
Entirely New Underbody Created
Feldmaier was named the leader of a cross-functional team of 70. In order
to get the new seat feature into 2005 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand
Caravan minivans, the team needed to dig into the floor pan and create an
entirely new underbody, invent folding seats, and a load floor for the second-
row seats. They also needed to design a new fuel tank, exhaust system, park
brake cables, rear climate control lines, and modify the rear suspension. The
team achieved its objectives while passing stringent quality gates and meeting
In January of 2003, Chrysler Group kicked off prototype and production
tooling simultaneously at the company's Windsor Assembly Plant (WAP). By
building the prototypes on the assembly line, issues could be addressed and
managed faster and testing could begin earlier. The process also gave WAP a
head start on employee training. On May 5, 2003, the first prototype minivan
model with Stow n' Go was built at WAP. Early this year, the new 2005
Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans will begin arriving
When all was said and done, the team met all quality gate requirements and
accomplished their objective in just 18 months, less than half the time it
typically takes to bring a new vehicle to market.
"People in this company take great pride in our minivan leadership
position," said Feldmaier. "And we're going to do whatever it takes to
maintain and defend our leadership. Whether it's second- and third-row Stow
'n Go seating or the next great unknown minivan feature, we're full steam
SOURCE Chrysler Group