Chrysler Yanks Plug-In Hybrid Test Fleet Off Roads, Will Replace Batteries

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Ram 1500 Plug-In Hybrid pickup truck and Chrysler Town & Country plug-in hybrid minivan, April 2012

Ram 1500 Plug-In Hybrid pickup truck and Chrysler Town & Country plug-in hybrid minivan, April 2012

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Ask most people about Chrysler's plug-in hybrid prototype program, and you'll get something like, "Huh? Chrysler has plug-in hybrids?"

In fact, the company does: 23 minivans and 109 pickup trucks on the roads for almost a year now, all prototypes to test the technology.

Today, the company announced it's pulling them all off the roads--"withdrawing from service" is the specific phrase--due to damage sustained by three separate pickup trucks when their 12.9-kilowatt-hour battery packs overheated.

Chrysler says there were no injuries from any of the incidents, and the pickups were not occupied at the time.

No minivans were involved in any incidents, but while they were only delivered for testing in April, they too are being withdrawn as a safety precaution.

The Ram 1500 plug-in hybrid pickups were first delivered last year, including four to the Michigan town of Auburn Hills, where Chrysler has its global headquarters.

We should note that the lithium-ion cells used in these packs--which had a particularly high energy density compared to other plug-in vehicle packs--come from a small cell-maker, Electrovaya.

That company does not provide cells for any production plug-in vehicle sold to consumers today.

Chrysler says it's winding down this phase of the program, which is scheduled to run through 2014, and will upgrade the packs with cells that use a different lithium-ion chemistry before the vehicles go back on the roads.

The goal of the program is now to concentrate "resources and technical development on a superior battery,” said Michael Duhaime, global director-electrified powertrain propulsion systems.

Testing a lithium-ion polymer battery to destruction

Testing a lithium-ion polymer battery to destruction

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The "complexity of the solution" will determine how many of the vehicles are actually put back on the road, Chrysler said in a statement.

The plug-in hybrid minivans and pickup trucks were operated by 16 organizations that partnered with Chrysler -- municipalities and utility companies in locations throughout 20 states -- to test real-world durability and performance.

Chrysler noted that the fleet had collectively accumulated 1.3 million miles before the vehicles were taken off the roads.

And, the company said, the plug-in pickups delivered peak average fuel economy of 37.4 mpg, while the plug-in hybrid minivans delivered 55.0 mpg.

The next and final phase of the plug-in hybrid test program will look at potential cost reductions in commercial fleets from permitting utilities to draw power from the vehicles' battery packs back into the grid.

The vehicles can also be linked to form independent, mobile mini-grids--which may offer potential emergency assistance to neighborhoods that have lost power.

The program is jointly funded by Chrysler and the U.S. Department of Energy. Begun two years ago, it is scheduled to end in 2014.


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Comments (19)
  1. Well, at least they figured it out before going in to production.

    Of course the 55 mpg is total BS. They are probably not accounting for the value of the electricity. This number could potentially read infinity

  2. Even if they do, the efficiency of the electric drive system is about 2x to 3x more than the typical Prius...

  3. Fortunately the EPA does this calculation so your comment is easily proven wrong.
    50 mpg Prius
    94 mpge Chevy Volt.

    1.9x more efficient, not 2 or 3x.

    Nice try.

    Their 55 mpg number is undoubtedly calculated in the same dubious manner as Volt owners reporting 200+ mpg.

    Not happening and borders on meaningless.

    Still, I take your point that electric drive can be more efficient. We just shouldn't try to prove that with BS numbers. Of course, a poor choice of batteries has made this all a moot point.

  4. @ John Briggs.

    Let me point out something for you. EPA uses "assumed" gas price AND "assumed" electricity price in their "MPGe" calculation. I was pointing out the simple "energy efficiency".

    EPA uses 34KWh of electricity per gallon of gas as "energy" conversion.

    Volt is rated EPA 38 miles (35miles on older model) for 10.5KWh of electricity used. That is 3.6 miles per KWh (3.33mile per KWh).

    3.6 miles per KWh x 34KWh per gallon = 122.4 miles per gallon.

    122.4 / 50 = 2.448

  5. Another point:

    EPA's MPGe rating is "energy consumption" rating. In Volt, it says 36KWh per 100 miles or 2.777 miles per KWh. But it also rates the Volt 35 miles range per 10.5KWh which is 3.333 miles per KWh.

    So, 2.777 is NOT 3.333, right? Why? B/c 2.777 is the total energy consumption number. 3.333 is based on the total energy "used" by the "battery" number. Energy consumed do NOT included energy regnerated in braking, coasting.

    In the case of Prius's MPG number. It is calculated ONLY based on fuel consumed. It "hides" the energy recovered through its hybrid system. It doesn't list the "energy consumed" number, only the "gallon of gas" consumed.

    So, better include the regen on both cars...

  6. Some how we both inherited the "I must be right gene."

    For the moment, I will try to set that I aside because I am actually curious how these tests are performed.

    Looking around on the Web, there are number points that I can NOT find support for.

    1) The costs of fuels does NOT factor in to MPG or MPGe calculations.

    2) The impact of regen for both the Prius and the Volt should be the same as they are both subject to the same 5 cycle test.

    3) There is no evidence that the 10.5 KWH number is the right one to use.

  7. 10.5KWh is the number that Volt's SW limits the car to..

  8. Looking around on the web, I find conflicting information about how MPGe is calculated. But I think I like this one the best.

    Here is the part that may explain the discrepancy of your calculation.

    "The testing is conducted as follows: the electric vehicle is fully charged, parked overnight, and then the following day driven over successive drive cycles until the battery becomes discharged.."
    "After, the vehicle is recharged with a normal AC source and the energy consumption determined by dividing the kWh AC consumption by the miles driven."

    So the KWH used is the energy used to charge the battery, not what comes out of it. Maybe it is the charging inefficiency that is the problem.

  9. Do the "test" distinguish the different efficiency between 120V and 240V charging? I know for a fact there are differences...

    Also, energy are also "consumed" during charging as battery and charger cooling system are powered through the A/C draw.

    Sure, those are "losses" in the "system". But I believe my statement said: "efficiency of the (electric drive system) is about 2x to 3x more than the typical Prius... "

    Charging system is NOT part of the "drive" system.

    And you are right. I like to argue to the "smallest details" possible. I look at all the "details" in my job. Call it an engineering habit.

  10. Regardless of whether you are "right" or not, I think it is good that the MPGe includes the losses of charging. That keeps some pressure on the engineers to make sure the charging process is efficient.

    If the numbers are correct, there is something like a 20% loss in the Volt charging system which is quite disappointing. On the other hand, it suggest some upside potential for improvements.

    There is another line of argument that has to do with how the electricity is generated and the fact that energy conversion efficiency at the power plant is probably only 40% plus another 5% of line losses. But I don't wish to go down that rat hole because then we will need to discuss refining efficiency.

    Let's assume EVs are powered from the sun.

  11. There was a prj by DOE testing to show how efficient the Volt charger is vs. different EVSE input voltage and charging condition.

    The problem is that Volt's battery pack is 360V and if you only use 120V AC, then not enough peak V to charge, so the efficiency is lower than the 240V AC.

    Also, some of the loss are due to the heat generated at battery (worse as the speed of the charging increases).

    80% efficiency is already a pretty good number for a 120V EVSE. I think 240V is near 90%assuming "ideal temperature".

    I do power my Volt with solar panels at work. But other people have complained about electricity "banking" using the power grid...

  12. There are more comments in this thread
  13. Awesome they are doing this! How great would a plug in pickup be - can you imagine all the energy recovered when braking?

  14. I’m waiting for the first a-hole who is going to blame Obama for this…come on, who wants to be the first one?

  15. @Rich: That would be you!

  16. Chrysler is finding out what many already know, this technology is not ready for the market. One question for the hybrid crowd, what are you going to do with all the poluting batteries when they are used up? Who would be dumb enough to buy a used hybrid or electric? Maybe no one should.

  17. @Bill: We've not seen you weigh in on Chrysler matters in some time! Welcome back to Green Car Reports!

    As the site has noted many times over the years, carmakers already have programs set up to recycle hybrid and electric-car battery packs. Lead-acid 12-Volt batteries are already the most recycled consumer good on the planet, and nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion packs will have value left after their use in cars. And lithium is actually an inert and essentially non-polluting substance, unlike the documented health hazards of lead, so your worries are unfounded.

    As for hybrid resale value, the Toyota Prius (most popular one) holds its used value exceptionally well. Check the data!

  18. John already reminded you about the existing programs that have been mentioned many times. And he also reminded you how recyclable the battery packs are. The person who will buy my used Volt will get a great car with at least 7 years of warranty left on the battery, a year of free OnStar left and a car that runs and drives like nothing else he/she could buy new from the ICE world. So maybe not so dumb.

  19. I was actually looking forward to a "real" plug in minivan.
    It would be really efficient if it is used to around town to run errands...

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