A Chrysler plug-in hybrid minivan will reportedly arrive in 2016, ahead of several important new models coming soon from FiatChrysler. It’s about time.
It used to be that GM, Ford, and Chrysler were known as “The Big Three” in America, but for the past 30 years, it has been more like “Two and A Half Car Companies in Detroit,” as Chrysler has drifted in and out of corporate marriages with a variety of partners. First, Mercedes came calling and forged a more or less disastrous partnership in which outdated Mercedes chassis were foisted off on the public as “new” Chrysler models.
Under Mercedes’ guidance, Chrysler slipped further and further down the Consumer Reports reliability rankings. Not even Mercedes CEO Dieter Zetsche, with his luxuriant, flowing mustache, could entice customers into showrooms any more. Mercedes set Chrysler adrift with only a collection of second-class models to show for its dalliance with the German juggernaut.
Then came the economic meltdown in 2007, which forced Chrysler into a shotgun wedding with Fiat. Now, Fiat has never had the best of reputations in the US. (I owned one in the 70s and the memory is still so painful that I doubt I shall ever own another.) Nor, quite frankly, are its cars highly prized in other parts of the world. CEO Sergio Marcchione may count Ferrari and Alfa Romeo as prized possessions, but the majority of Fiat products run the gamut between so-so and ho-hum. Only the Fiat 500L extended wheelbase car seems to create much excitement in America.
There are two segments of the automobile market in America that are white hot — minivans and SUVs. The venerable Chrysler minivan, now known as the Town & Country, has soldiered on for more than 40 years. It has gotten smoother and more refined all the time, to the point where it is a competent and capable family hauler that can transport 7 people in comfort. It even gets decent fuel economy for a car that is actually little more than a box on wheels.
For reasons known only to all those smart people sitting in the hushed stillness of corporate boardrooms, no carmaker yet has seen fit to offer a plug-in hybrid minivan, but that is about to change. A new Chrysler Town & Country will debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January, and will be in showrooms in the the spring of 2016.
According to Automotive News, a plug-in hybrid version of the T&C will follow about 6 months after that. And how’s this for news? It is expected the plug-in car will have a fuel economy rating of 75 MPGe! It doesn’t matter how low gas prices go; that’s a number that will gladden the hearts and wallets of American families everywhere.
Chrysler plans to dip its toe into another market segment that is literally on fire at the moment — SUVs. A front-wheel-drive SUV will appear in 2018. It will share a Fiat platform and many components with the 200. Before that gets here, an all-wheel-drive crossover with three rows of seats will debut in 2017. It will share a platform and many features with the redesigned Town & Country, but without its sliding doors and Stow ‘n Go seats. Best of all, a plug-in hybrid version is scheduled for late 2017.
The present-day Chrysler 200 and Chrysler 300 are surprisingly good cars. With any luck, the new minivan and SUVs will impress shoppers as well.