Fiat Chrysler CTO: Fuel Cells Are The Future, Batteries Are Not


2015 Maserati Ghibli

2015 Maserati Ghibli

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Several companies have expressed enthusiasm about battery-electric cars, but Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) isn't one of them.

Six years after killing its pre-bankruptcy ENVI project that showed a variety of plug-in concept cars, FCA still doesn't offer any mainstream plug-in models.

Its only production electric car is the Fiat 500e, and FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has made no bones about the fact that that model is just a "compliance car" built to satisfy California's zero-emission vehicle mandate.

DON'T MISS: Chrysler Confirms Plug-In Hybrid Minivan, Big SUV In 2016 And Later (May 2014)

It's an attitude that is apparently shared further down the chain of command.

Hydrogen fuel cells are a better choice for future powertrains than batteries, FCA Chief Technology Officer Harald Wester said in a recent interview with Motor Trend.

Wester is also the CEO of Maserati and Alfa Romeo. He was discussing possible alternative powertrains for those brands.

2015 Maserati Quattroporte GTS

2015 Maserati Quattroporte GTS

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"What the hell do you want with 400 kilos (882 pounds) of battery driving around?" Wester said on the subject of electrification.

He said hybrid powertrains will be Maserati's way of meeting tightening global emissions standards, with fuel cells to follow in the "distant future."

Fuel-cell powertrains will be easier to package, even with a small-capacity battery for extra power, he argued.

ALSO SEE: Chrysler CEO: Industry Can Meet MPG Targets, But They Should Be Delayed

Wester also dismissed the question of how hydrogen fueling infrastructure would be built to support these cars, and downplayed the ease of installing electric-car charging stations.

In response to a point made by the interviewer, he said there are not really electrical outlets everywhere.

To which the interviewer fired back, "Semantics."

2014 Maserati GranTurismo MC

2014 Maserati GranTurismo MC

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Wester also claimed that continued use of fossil fuels to generate electricity ultimately makes battery-electric cars less green than fuel-cell vehicles.

When asked about the electricity needed to extract hydrogen from existing compounds--plus the energy required to store and transport it--all Wester had to say was, "True."

MORE: Chrysler To Follow Trend, Add Direct Injection To V-6, Turbo Too (Dec 2014)

In the nearer term, Wester said Maserati will focus on improving the efficiency of its standalone internal-combustion engines, then move on to hybrids.

Maserati may also downsize from its current V-6 and V-8 engines, as long as it doesn't affect the brand's cachet.

Maserati Kubang SUV

Maserati Kubang SUV

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"I don't see us, for the time being, selling four-cylinder Maseratis," Wester said, although they might become an option if higher fuel prices demand it.

Outside of the elite Italian brands, FCA is also expected to launch a plug-in hybrid version of the next Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

That model could debut with the rest of the Town & Country range at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show, and may be followed by a second plug-in model--likely a Jeep SUV.

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