Chrysler Forced to Build More Hybrids?

Gas-electric hybrids have become the most popular form of fuel-efficient vehicles, and just about every automaker offers some type of hybrid vehicle. One glaring exception is Chrysler, which does not offer a single hybrid vehicle. But that is changing…though Chrysler does not seem happy about it.

Wasting Time On Dead End Tech… 

In an interview with Automotive News, Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne basically said that his company would be forced to make hybrids to be in compliance with the 2025 CAFE standards of 54.5 mpg. There are two sides of this story worth exploring. On one hand, Chrysler is the least fuel efficient major automaker operating in America right now. They do not offer any hybrid, electric, or alternative-fuel vehicles. Rather, Chrysler has played around with a diverse range of technologies, from plugin-hybrids and hydraulic-hybrids to pure electrics and CNG vehicles.

And yet they have not committed in a meaningful way to any one technology, and now time is running out. The 2025 CAFE standards of 54.5 mpg may seem like a long ways away, but developing a car or powertrain does not happen overnight. It takes years from concept to physical production to develop a decent car or engine one could certainly argue that Chrysler has wasted time it didn’t really have on technologies it wasn’t ready to commit to.

…or Killing Innovation And Corralling Automakers?

Then there is the other side of the story. I like some of Chrysler’s ideas, especially CNG vehicles and hydraulic hybrids. While converting an engine to CNG shouldn’t be too difficult, technology like the hydraulic hybrid system and plug-in Ram pickup will take time to develop…and rather than encouraging innovation, the CAFE standards are corraling automakers into using a certain type of technology; gas-electric hybrids.

In the long run, using less oil does not solve the problem of oil, and it is unlikely that America will ever be able to provide enough oil energy to power its infrastructure ever again. That means one day, we have to commit to one alternative fuel or another…and forcing automakers towards a single type of technology does not spur the innovation needed to make important breakthroughs.

I know that when given the freedom, automakers made gas-guzzling, technologically inferior vehicles with high profit margins. So I think the government needs to set standards regarding minimum fuel economy requirements. But not at the cost of innovation. Perhaps a lower standard, or more credit for vehicles that use fuel other than gasoline, would help convince automakers of developing riskier, but potentially far more rewarding, technologies.

Then again, with Chrysler bringing over diesel engines for the U.S. market and an eight-speed automatic in the Chrysler 300 sedan, there is potential here for some very efficient and very fun diesel-electric hybrids. It all depends on how Chrysler plays this out.

Source: Automotive News

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.