There's likely a huge market demand for higher-mileage minivans and wagons, but so far, the 2012 Toyota Prius V is the sole entry that gets more than 40 mpg in EPA testing.

So the news that Chrysler delivered four plug-in hybrid versions of its Town & Country minivan to the city of Auburn Hills, Michigan, is tantalizing to families who want to drive green.

Test fleet only

Unfortunately, the four minivans the company delivered last Thursday to the company's headquarters city are part of a test fleet of only 25 vehicles.

Their development was jointly funded by Chrysler--which kicked in $15.8 million--and the U.S. Department of Energy, which contributed $10 million.

Four Level 2 charging stations will be installed at both the Auburn Hills Civic Center and its Department of Public Works facility.

City staffers who drive the plug-in hybrid Town & Countrys will report how often the vehicles were charged and what kinds of driving--city, highway, or a mix--they were used for.

Chrysler expects each plug-in hybrid minivan will cover roughly 17,000 miles during the test; the company will no doubt download operating data as the test progresses.

No hybrids in production

At the moment, Chrysler builds no hybrid vehicles at all.

It briefly built hybrid versions of its Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen large sport-utilities in 2008, but the entire model line was canceled during the spiraling financial woes that ended with Chrysler's early-2009 bankruptcy.

Ram 1500 hybrid transmission diagram, image via

Ram 1500 hybrid transmission diagram, image via

In March 2010, it also canceled plans for a Dodge Ram Hybrid pickup truck, which would have used the same Two-Mode Hybrid transmission from General Motors as the Durango and Aspen Hybrids.

Coming for 2014

More recently, CEO Sergio Machionne has said Chrysler will offer both a Chrysler 300 hybrid sedan and a hybrid version of its minivan--most likely as 2014 models to be launched next year.

It will also build a Fiat 500 electric car, which will be assembled in the U.S. and likely be offered on a very limited basis. 

But for now, the dream of a plug-in hybrid family minivan will remain just that: a dream.

Last October, Auburn Hills also received from Chrysler four Ram 1500 plug-in hybrid pickup trucks for testing, the last vestiges of the canceled Ram Hybrid pickup truck project.

Those vehicles aren't any closer to production than the minivans either, sadly.


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