Cars that run entirely or partly on electricity from a battery pack have no tailpipe emissions, but to judge their overall impact, you have to look at lifetime wells-to-wheels emissions.
That includes emissions associated with extracting, refining, and burning the fuel used to make the electricity that recharges them, as well as the same for any gasoline they burn if they're plug-in hybrids.
At today's Detroit Auto Show, Fiat Chrysler released calculations on the lifecycle greenhouse-gas emissions of its 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid plug-in minivan.
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And as with all cars powered on grid electricity (even those from dirty grids), the addition of the Pacifica Hybrid's 33 miles of all-electric range significantly lowers the plug-in hybrid's carbon footprint.
Compared to the previous-generation minivan, the departing Chrysler Town & Country, FCA says, the greenhouse-gas emission footprint of the seven-passenger plug-in hybrid Pacifica is 31 percent lower.
Against its conventionally powered V-6 counterpart in the 2017 Pacifica lineup, the reduction for the plug-in version is 24 percent.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Chrysler refers to it as "Global Warming Potential" or GWP, but it's effectively the carbon footprint of the vehicle and the energy required to propel it over its projected life.
FCA's U.S. engineering team used the industry-standard GREET software model that accounts for the carbon footprint of fuel production and delivery, along with the implications of the vehicle’s own fuel consumption.
"Such calculations are based on 120,000 miles (200,000 km) of operation," FCA noted. "Improvements are measured by contrasting anticipated C02-equivalent greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions with those of comparable vehicles."
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And over that lifetime, the company added, that's equivalent to 21 metric tons of carbon dioxide for each Pacifica Hybrid sold.
What does that mean in real-world terms? It's equivalent to the annual carbon output of 22 U.S. households, or 14 commercial flights from Los Angeles to Detroit, or more than 50,000 miles driven in an average passenger vehicle.
The company notes that these results are achieved despite a curb weight roughly 650 pounds higher for the plug-in hybrid (largely due to its 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack) against its conventionally powered counterpart in the Pacifica lineup.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
The fuel economy of the plug-in minivan is rated at 32 mpg when operating conventionally; its energy efficiency when operating electrically is 84 MPGe.
(Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe, is a measure of how far a vehicle can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)
The Chrysler study is simply the most recent among studies by Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volkswagen and other carmakers showing that driving on grid electricity lowers a vehicle's overall carbon footprint.
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The company notes that the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid will arrive at U.S. dealerships by the end of March. FCA says it plans to sell the plug-in hybrid minivan in all 50 states, at a starting price of roughly $35,000.
The plug-in hybrid Pacifica model is eligible for a $7,500 federal income-tax credit, a $1,500 purchase rebate in California, and numerous other state, local, and corporate incentives.
For all the latest on green-car debuts at this week's event, head over to our Detroit auto show news page.
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