Chrysler Takes Slow Steps to Offer Plug-in Vehicles
Chrysler is apparently content to stay in the the back of the pack when it comes to electric cars. On Aug. 7, a Chrysler executive said the automaker will build hybrid and electric vehicles, but will only do so "sparingly" and for "targeted applications." This does not mean that Chrysler-Fiat will not build plug-in vehicles. "We do believe in electrification," said Bob Lee, vice president and head of engine and electrified propulsion engineering. "We’re developing technology for commercialization preparing for the shift when consumers start pulling them into the marketplace.”
Lee made that comment during a recent conference at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan.
Lee's words echo those of Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who has remarked on several occasions that Chrysler is only willing to build electric vehicles to meet government regulations. In April 2011, Sergio Marchionne, C.E.O. of Chrysler/Fiat, said, “The economics of EVs simply don’t work.” Referring to the electric version of the Fiat 500 that Chrysler could start selling in 2013, he commented, “We will lose over $10,000 per unit despite the retail price being three times higher.”
The battery-powered Fiat 500 is expected to go into production, in low quantities, in 2012. "At Chrysler, we are working on an electric version of the Fiat 500 that we’ll begin manufacturing later this year," the company officially tweeted on Feb. 4. This is likely to mean an unveiling late in 2012, followed by the first sales sometime next year.
What usually gets ignored in discussions about Chrysler's potential electrified vehicles is the company's experience building plug-in hybrid pick-up trucks and minivans. Chrysler has hundreds of plug-in hybrid pick-up trucks, with about 20 miles of all-electric range, in testing—as a result of a 2009 Department of Energy grant. It is also testing a small number of plug-in hybrid minivans. If the company is not optimistic about pure EVs, then an introduction of a plug-in hybrid minivan, for example, would allow Chrysler to offer the market's first family-oriented people-move capable of all-electric miles. That would ease the company into the plug-in market in a segment not currently served by any other carmaker.
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