Chrysler Looks To Commercialize Plug-in Cars, Again

By · September 25, 2013

Chrysler Town & Country plug-in

Once upon a time, in 2009, Chrysler was going to build a range of plug-in vehicles, from sports cars to minivans.

When Italian automaker Fiat stepped in with a strategic alliance designed to save Chrysler from bankruptcy in 2009, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne wasted no time pulling the plug on Chrysler’s plug-in car program. In March 2011, he explained, “The economics of EVs simply don’t work.” Referring to the electric version of the Fiat 500, he added, “We will lose over $10,000 per unit.”

Now, with Chrysler's fortunes turned around, its Italian partnership in jeopardy, and a possible IPO in the pipeline, Chrysler’s EV program is back. At least, that’s what we can infer from Chrysler’s corporate recruitment site, which is currently looking for engineers in the fields of electrified power development and battery management systems at its headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Prior to Fiat’s involvement in Chrysler, the automaker had trumpeted plans to electrify an entire swath of its models—ranging from an all-electric two-seat Dodge Circuit EV to a range-extended Jeep Patriot, a plug-in minivan and even a concept city car.

These plug-in cars—mostly considered showy concept vehicles without much development to support them—were aborted by Fiat long well before reaching the showroom. (A handful of plug-in hybrid Dodge RAM trucks and Chrysler Town & Country minivans materialized, albeit as part of a two-year corporate-only test fleet funded by a $123 million Department of Energy program.) Even with the support of the U.S. government, Chrysler was for years not willing to consider a plug-in future for the company.

All Along?

Despite its almost complete abstinence from plug-in programs—save for the plug-in test fleet and Fiat’s tepid efforts to sell the all-electric Fiat 500e in California (in order to satisfy the state’s zero emissions mandates)—Chrysler wants us to believe that electrified cars were on the table all along.

“We’ve said all along that we’ll need electrification to comply with the regulations going forward, and any hiring that we do on that front is consistent with that plan,” Chrysler powertrain spokesman Eric Mayne told Automotive News earlier this week. “The range of electrification technologies we’ve said that we’ll adopt starts with start-stop and goes through EVs.”

At the moment however, Chrysler isn’t keen on talking specifics, making it unlikely that we’ll see a plug-in car from Chrysler anytime soon. That, unfortunately, represents a missed opportunity: While Chrysler’s fleet of plug-in offerings—including the sole electrified pick-up truck on the market—may have enticed many a buyer a few years ago, those same vehicles will now mostly look like late also-ran compliance products.

For Chrysler, the tough job now is not building a plug-in car, but catching up with the last five years of plug-in in evolution and market leadership from rival companies like General Motors, Ford, Nissan and Tesla.

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