The big green car news from Chrysler yesterday was its announcement that it would build an electric version of the Fiat 500 mini-car for the U.S. market.
Win one, lose one, perhaps. The company also dropped a death notice: It has ended development of its Ram Two-Mode Hybrid pickup truck, scheduled for introduction this year as a 2011 model.
Ram Hybrid Spy Shot
2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid launch at 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show
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No business case
"After closely evaluating the response to hybrid pickups in the marketplace, the company could not formulate an appropriate business case," Chrysler said in its release. So it "has decided to cancel development work" on the Two-Mode pickup.
General Motors, which sold 8,820 Two-Mode Hybrids last year, has hardly had a smash hit with its own hybrid pickups: They represented only 1,576 of that total, with the bulk of the sales being full-size sport-utility vehicles.
"Frankly, it's a sound business decision, given the lack of success seen by the hybrid trucks at GM," said industry analyst Aaron Bragman of IHS Global Insight, calling the Two-Mode Hybrid "a good concept in a too-expensive package."
Smaller, more efficient engines
Full-size pickup buyers have historically opted more for high-torque diesel engines, and they are also notoriously cost-sensitive. The added price of the complex hybrid system, with sales volumes potentially below 1,000, clearly made no sense to Chrysler.
Instead, the company will focus its fuel-efficiency efforts--for both cars and trucks--on smaller, more efficient engines and perhaps some diesels.
Last fall, the company had said the Two-Mode pickup was on track for launch this year. But the lack of announcements at recent auto shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago spelled hesitation.
As Chrysler works furiously to redesign and replace its woefully uncompetitive line of cars, the bottom line is all that matters.
With this announcement, Chrysler ends its role in the four-way Two-Mode Hybrid partnership. It built fewer than 1,000 Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen hybrids before killing those vehicles in December 2008.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz are moving away from using the Two-Mode in future models in favor of evolving their shared mild-hybrid system, launched on two full-size luxury sedans.
Plug-in pickup project
The company will continue to dabble in hybrids, also announcing that it would build 140 plug-in hybrid pickup trucks for a three-year demonstration program funded by a $48 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Like the now-dead Hemi Hybrid pickup truck, the plug-in pickups will use the company's 5.7-liter V-8 engine.
Rather than a 1.6-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, however, a larger 12-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion pack will be fitted, containing cells from Electrovaya Inc.
20 electric miles
Chrysler says the plug-in truck will run up to 20 miles on electricity alone, and improve fuel efficiency over "average drive cycles" by more than 65 percent.
These kinds of tests, while they provide real-world operating data, are far removed from production vehicles. Any lessons learned from this test would be unlikely to appear in trucks until 2015 or later.
The Two-Mode Hybrid system contains an electric continuously variable transmission (eCVT) that includes two electric motors, four fixed gears, and various clutches and planetary gearsets; heavy-duty power electronics; a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack; and millions of lines of control software.