Among the Detroit Three automakers, General Motors has a quarter of a century of electric-car experience, from the legendary EV1 to the 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Ford launched hybrids in 2004, before any other maker, but its battery-electric efforts thus far have been strictly compliance cars.

Chrysler, however, was by far the most pessimistic: CEO Sergio Marchionne spent several years telling consumers not to buy the company's Fiat 500e electric car, because each one lost more than $10,000 for the company.

DON'T MISS: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid plug-in minivan recalled for faulty diode

Times, however, have changed.

Now Fiat Chrysler plans to start embracing electrified vehicles—both hybrids and cars that plug in to charge their battery packs—as battery costs fall and diesels increasingly struggle against public opprobrium and stiffer future tailpipe emission standards.

Last week, during Fiat Chrysler's conference call on its second-quarter financial results, CEO Marchionne addressed the issue directly.

2016 Fiat 500e

2016 Fiat 500e

There's nothing that will prevent an OEM from engaging in the type of development work that Tesla has done so far. We have been—as you well know, we have been reluctant to embrace that avenue until we saw a clear—a path forward.

I think we're now in a position to acknowledge at least one of our brands and in particular Maserati will, when it completes the development of its next two models effectively switch all of its portfolio to electrification.

And as these products come up for renewal post 2019, it will start launching vehicles, which are all electric and which will embody, I think, what we consider to be state-of-the-art technology.


It's an integral part of the development of the Group and I think it's an integral part of a broader strategy on electrification, which will see more than half of its fleet. By the time we hit the conclusion of the plan in 2022, it will see more than half of its fleet incorporated in electrification.

Marchionne's remarks responded to an analyst question on whether the group's Maserati unit was integrated into the company's powertrain activities to the point that it couldn't easily be separated out if that became financially beneficial.

But given Chrysler's spotty history with hybrids and plug-in electric cars, it's a notable shift in position.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Just before its 2009 bankruptcy and government-backed restructuring and merger with Italy's Fiat, Chrysler launched hybrid versions of its two large traditional SUVs, the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango.

Fewer than 1,000 copies of those vehicles were manufactured before the vehicle lines were ended entirely and the plant was shut down.

The Fiat 500e electric car, while popular for its low prices and nippy handling, remains a compliance car sold only in California, and has had no significant upgrades in the six years since its launch in 2012.

Much of the powertrain and battery technology for that vehicle was developed by parts supplier Bosch, working together with the Chrysler engineers.

2009 Dodge Durango HEMI Hybrid

2009 Dodge Durango HEMI Hybrid

FCA's next plug-in vehicle, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, only started deliveries this year, though it has received excellent reviews despite a recall for a faulty part that has temporarily halted production.

So Marchionne's statement that more than half the company's vehicles will be electrified in some way—even if that only means 48-volt enhanced start-stop systems—is a huge change in tone and advance.

It also simply recognizes the reality of global automotive regulation moving into the 2020s.


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