Angular Front Exterior View - 2010 Dodge Ram 2500 4WD Crew Cab 169" STEnlarge Photo
To date, Chrysler has built and sold less than 1,000 hybrid vehicles. Without deep background in electric drive, Chrysler must collaborate with more experienced partners to develop a new plug-in hybrid version of its Ram pickup truck.
Earlier this week, Chrysler Group announced it will start a new demonstration program for a plug-in hybrid Ram. The demonstration is funded by a $48 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (D0E).
The program involves Chrysler and 21 partners, including battery suppliers, utility companies, government agencies and universities, to build and evaluate 140 Ram plug-in hybrids over the next three years.
"This initiative represents how government, automotive industry, suppliers and key partners are reaching common goals and demonstrates how rapidly this type of advanced technology can be brought to market," said Paolo Ferrero, Chrysler's senior vice president for powertrains.
The DoE grant is part of a $2.4 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act DOE Vehicle Electrification program meant to expedite the research and development of plug-in vehicles.
"DoE support for domestic advanced technology is an important enabler for Chrysler Group and its key suppliers in order to understand and test customer acceptance and the capability of plug-in hybrid systems in a variety of real-world conditions," said Ferrero.
The plug-in hybrid Ram will use a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine with the Two-Mode Hybrid transmission original developed by the partnership of GM, Daimler, Chrysler, and BMW.
The plug-in hybrid pickup will travel up to 20 miles in all-electric mode. Electrovaya Inc. has been chosen to supply the 12-kilowatt-hour lithium ion batteries for the test fleet, which is expected to deliver overall fuel economy more than 65 percent higher on average drive cycles than a stock Ram.
My research has shown that these types of collaborations are key for plug-in vehicles to emerge. Almost every plug-in model set for release in the near future, including the 2011 Chevy Volt, the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, and the 2011 Nissan Leaf, has had many different partners collaborating early on different aspects of the technology.
This news coincides with the end of Chrysler's development work on the 2011 Ram Hybrid pickup. It said, "After closely evaluating the response to hybrid pickups in the marketplace, the company could not formulate an appropriate business case."
Perhaps the enhanced fuel economy benefits of a plug-in hybrid version outweigh the smaller gains provided by a hybrid version. It may be easier to build a business case for vehicles that significantly reduce oil consumption, rather than provide only a nominal reduction.
It's unclear whether we can expect a plug-in hybrid Ram pickup truck to go into production after this demonstration program.
But when combined with other news this week from Chrysler--including the announcement that they will build an Electric Fiat 500--it appears that the new Chrysler Group is at least dipping its toes into vehicle electrification.
Shannon Arvizu is a clean-tech strategist and educator at Columbia University. For more info, visit www.misselectric.com.