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DaimlerChrysler details plans for massive internal Web project

DaimlerChrysler AG today detailed a new Web-based infrastructure initiative that's designed to link all aspects of its vehicle design, production and marketing operations.

The Stuttgart, Germany-based automaker unveiled the multiyear FastCar project at a conference sponsored by the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The new initiative is aimed at reducing the time it takes DaimlerChrysler to get new vehicles into production, according to the company.

Officials at DaimlerChrysler's North American unit said the FastCar project will include the deployment of a Web infrastructure that will provide tighter communication among the company's design, engineering, manufacturing, quality, finance, procurement and sales and marketing units.

For example, approved product design changes would get communicated instantly to other departments within DaimlerChrysler, as well as to external suppliers that are involved in equipping and supporting the production of a new car. The company hopes to cut at least three months out of the product development process.

The new project "is as ambitious as any we've ever done," said James Holden, president and CEO of the company's DaimlerChrysler Corp. unit -- a job that gives him responsibility for its Chrysler, Plymouth, Jeep and Dodge operations on a worldwide basis and its North American Mercedes-Benz units.

But Holden also alluded to the complexity of the FastCar endeavor. The project will create "a completely new way to communicate information and data within our organization," he said in a statement. "It's not unlike trying to re-wire a plane while it's in flight."

The FastCar announcement comes just three weeks after DaimlerChrysler began launching a series of new Web sites aimed at car buyers -- a move that ended months of idling by the company while rivals General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. embarked on aggressive Internet strategies.

As part of the FastCar project, DaimlerChrysler will use computer-aided design software developed by Paris-based Dassault Systemes SA and business integration software from Dallas-based i2 Technologies Inc. About 4,100 internal employees and 5,000 external users will have access to the Web-based system when it's completed, the company said.

Initial pieces of the system could be deployed as early as October, DaimlerChrysler said. The company plans to start with the units responsible for its large vehicles and then follow with the ones that develop and produce smaller cars.

The FastCar program also could help DaimlerChrysler cut costs -- a step the company has been looking for in the face of slowing profits at its Chrysler unit in Auburn Hills, Mich.

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