Chrysler Sends Mixed Messages On EVs

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Despite government emissions standards, so far Fiat-Chrysler has delivered just a single plug-in car, the Fiat 500e, which CEO Sergio Marchionne went on record as asking people not to buy. The Italian-American automaker’s attitude toward EVs may be softening, with an executive revealed plans to work with advanced energy non-profit NextEnergy. Chrysler has promised to go electric before though; should we believe them this time?

“We launched the 500e and we’re going to do a minivan PHEV,” Mike Duhaime, director of electrified powertrains, told Wards Auto in an interview. “And we have several mild hybrids we’re working on getting ready for production.” That’s more of a commitment to plug-in cars than Chrysler has previously shown, but the lack of specifics isn’t exactly confidence inspiring.

There is however the partnership with NextEnergy to take in account, and non-profit could potentially provide guidance through the turbulent waters of current the EV battery market. There is also mention of Qualcomm’s wireless charging technology being ready for production in a few years, but up until now Qualcomm and Chrysler haven’t been mentioned in the same breath. The next five years could bring a number of new plug-in Fiat-Chrysler vehicles.

That’s has to be the case if Fiat-Chrysler wants to meet Federal emissions and fuel economy standards that come due in the next couple of years. Chrysler is one of the only automakers that still doesn’t offer any sort of hybrid, and save for the Dodge Dart and Fiat 500, no other vehicles even approach 40 MPG. That’s put the company at something of a disadvantage despite flat gasoline costs; hybrids have passed into the mainstream, and not offering a single hybrid vehicle comes down to stubbornness in my eyes. Only at the government’s behest has Chrysler undertaken a few plug-in vehicle trials, including a hybrid pickup truck, but those experiments ended with a whimper, not a bang.

You’ll recall Chrysler had begun a last-ditch attempt to get a head start on the electric vehicle market, but soon after Fiat took over those efforts were abandoned. Last year Chrysler began hiring EV engineers again, but the company has put itself far behind competitors in the plug-in car race.

I wonder if Sergio, watching the growing success of Tesla Motors, ever regrets that decision. Or is this just more lip service to appease environmentalists and government regulators?

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.