February 11, 2014 at 9:38 am

New Nissan-built GM van latest auto industry collaboration

The 2015 Chevrolet City Express, which debuts today at the Chicago Auto Show, will be available in dealerships in U.S. and Canada in the fall. (GM)

Chicago — The 2015 Chevrolet City Express — a cargo van built for General Motors Co. in Tennessee by Nissan Motor Co. — is the latest example of global automakers working together.

Based on Nissan’s NV200 cargo van, GM unveiled the City Express last week at the Chicago Auto Show. The partnership saved GM hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs in designing a van from the ground up. It shows how carmakers are working together, mostly on advanced technology projects but also on vehicles and engines.

Tim Mahoney, GM’s global chief marketing officer for Chevrolet, says it is hard to develop any new vehicle from the ground up for less than $500 million.

The City Express “was a smart business decision,” Mahoney said. GM is aiming to take sales away from Ford Motor Co.’s popular Transit Connect.

Ed Peper, GM’s U.S. vice president, fleet and commercial sales, said, “We’re always looking for good opportunities, but the situation has to be right for both companies.” He said the Nissan deal makes sense because “at a very low cost we’re getting into a segment we really need to be in that’s growing.”

GM designed the front end to make it look like a Chevy. It added an in-dash infotainment system and windows that the Nissan NV200 doesn’t have.

Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW AG announced last year they would develop a sports car together. Toyota and Tesla Motors collaborated on a electric version of the RAV4.

Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota division at Toyota Motor Sales USA, said, “There seems to be an openness for companies to see if they can collaborate and maybe get to market a little bit quicker.” With fuel economy mandates and growing technology challenges such as connected cars, he said, “Autos almost have to do it.”

GM and Toyota previously collaborated in northern California, where they assembled vehicles like the Toyota Corolla and Pontiac Vibe at the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. plant for 26 years.

The plant closed in 2010 after GM filed for bankruptcy; it is now owned by Tesla.

In April 2013, GM and Ford Motor Co. announced a deal to jointly develop an all-new generation of advanced technology nine- and 10-speed automatic transmissions for cars, crossovers, SUVs and trucks. The new transmissions will improve vehicle performance and increase fuel economy.

The project marks the third time in the past decade that GM and Ford have collaborated on transmissions. These efforts enabled both companies together to deliver more than 8 million six-speed automatics.

Ford installs these six-speeds in the Ford Fusion, Edge crossover and Escape and Explorer SUVs. GM installs them in the Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Traverse, Chevrolet Equinox and Chevrolet Cruze.

Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said automakers will pursue joint projects where it makes sense. “It’s a reality of the high cost of our business — the investment and the product development cycle.”

He said, “We have enough scale that largely speaking we don’t need to do that — and Toyota doesn’t — on the high-volume stuff, but on niche stuff, I think you’ll see more of it.”

In 2010, Renault, Nissan Motor Co. and Daimler AG announced a partnership to share small-car and powertrain technology, and are working on about 10 joint projects. They are jointly producing four-cylinder engines at a Nissan factory in Tennessee. The engines will be used in Mercedes C-Class and Infiniti vehicles.

In 2013, GM and Honda Motor Co. said they were working together on next-generation fuel-cell and hydrogen storage technologies, aiming for the 2020 time frame.

This week, GM also announced that its joint venture with Isuzu — DMAX, Ltd. — will invest $60 million to make design changes to meet future emissions requirements.

The investment retains about 500 jobs. Established in 1998, Ohio-based DMAX has produced almost 1.6 million engines since opening in 2000. GM owns 60 percent and Isuzu owns 40 percent of the venture that makes the Duramax diesel for heavy-duty trucks.

Al Gardner, the Chrysler brand CEO, said Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has a wide variety of brands and can pull in-house for most collaboration. The company includes Ram, Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, Alfa-Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari. “Going outside the network, to me makes little sense. We’ve got the expertise in small cars, large cars, SUVs and pickups.”

dshepardson@detroitnews.com