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Engine factory revving up as it awaits vehicle launch

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Production is to begin in September at the plant that is an alliance among DaimlerChrysler, Hyundai, and Mitsubishi.

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DUNDEE - Instead of building initial engine prototypes by hand as usual, Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance LLC was able to use production equipment at its first Dundee factory late last year because machines were put in place so quickly.

Some of the factory's workers have trained with a NASCAR team, learning to use special tools to slash the time to make equipment changes. Some have traveled to Korea and Japan to compare notes with counterparts.

But even though they are running about two months ahead of schedule, they won't be able to start engine production for Chrysler in June as first expected because the automaker has delayed launching the first vehicle to be supplied.

Production now is scheduled to begin in mid-September, said Bruce Coventry, president of the Dundee-based alliance among DaimlerChrysler AG, Hyundai Motor Co., and Mitsubishi Motor Corp. that will have five factories building a family of aluminum four-cylinder engines worldwide.

Chrysler essentially has given the alliance's first Dundee factory additional time to prepare for production, Mr. Coventry said. But as workers continue making prototypes that will be used in test vehicles and for other purposes, the added time probably isn't necessary, he added.

"A lot of what we're doing

today is practice," he told The Blade during an interview at the alliance's headquarters in Dundee.

Mr. Coventry joked: "We feel like we're in the pace-car lap right now."

Chrysler has remained mum about which car will be the first to be powered by a Dundee-built engine, but the alliance eventually will fulfill all of Chrysler's 4-cylinder needs, said Dave Elshoff, a spokesman for the automaker.

The nearly $700 million Dundee factories also will supply Mitsubishi, and it could make engines for Hyundai, Mr. Coventry said. Both automakers have U.S. operations.

About 120 employees are in place in Dundee, about half of them hourly workers making about $30 an hour and half of them salaried or supplier employees.

The alliance has slowed hiring because of the delay in the production launch, but information about job openings can be found at the Web site www.gemaengine.com, along with background about the selection process.

Up to 650 people will be employed at the two factories, either by the alliance or onsite suppliers, when hiring is completed in the next couple of years, Mr. Coventry said.

The venture has decided to shift more jobs that are not core to the manufacturing process to suppliers, and up to 250 will be employed by companies doing janitorial work, sharpening tools, and performing other tasks, he said.

The alliance started making its first engines more than a year ago in Korea to supply Hyundai Sonatas and Tucsons, and a second factory there is expected to open in mid-2006.

The Japanese factory that will supply Mitsubishi is scheduled to open in August. And the second Dundee factory under construction is to open in September, 2006.

Four-cylinder engines bound for Chrysler products will have more features than those in Hyundais, such as exhaust variable valve timing, because the alliance worked on their design a year longer, Mr. Coventry said.

Dundee-built engines will save Chrysler $100 million a year because the three partners were able to compare global suppliers and get the lowest prices plus allow the automaker to give customers $200 more worth of content than existing four-cylinder models, he said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.

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