Chrysler will add two large plug-in models by 2017, but not because it wants to
The only model that Fiat-Chrysler currently offers with an electrified powertrain is the low-volume Fiat 500e compliance car that the automaker clearly builds with reluctance. However, rising fuel efficiency standards will force even the most staunchly conventional automaker to eventually add an electrified model or two to compensate for the relative gas guzzlers that comprise the bulk of their vehicle sales.
The company’s five-year plan released on Tuesday revealed future plans for two large plug-in hybrid electric models, a minivan and a large crossover utility vehicle. The minivan will be a variant of the Town & Country and will arrive in 2016 while the full-sized CUV will be a new model offered with a plug-in option likely starting in 2017.
According to Chrysler president and CEO Al Gardner, the electrified minivan will achieve 75 MPG. This probably refers to the target MPGe rating for all-electric mode, which for a minivan would compare favorably with existing electric vehicles. Based on Chrysler’s previous iteration of plug-in hybrid development, anticipate all-electric range to be about 40 miles.
It is heartening to see Chrysler jump into the electric vehicle segment, especially with two models that aren’t small cars. The law of diminishing returns states that the benefits of improving fuel efficiency decline with smaller vehicles, so the most benefit from electrification comes with the largest and thirstiest vehicles such as minivans, large SUVs, and pickup trucks.
However, it is still evident that Chrysler plans to produce these vehicles only because it has no choice. Chrysler global powertrain boss Bob Lee indicated that the purpose of the minivan is to comply with California zero-emission regulations, and expounded the view that “the [electric vehicle] market continues to be primarily driven by regulatory requirements” (The Detroit News). Lee also denounced the upcoming hydrogen vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota as not commercially viable.
Without any hybridized models to speak of, without faith in electric vehicles or hydrogen technology, what exactly is Fiat-Chrysler’s vision of the future? Most automakers have thrown their lot in with one or more alternative propulsion technologies: Nissan and Tesla have committed to battery electrics; BMW has invested significantly in both battery electrics and plug-in hybrids; Ford, GM, and VW Group are focused on plug-in hybrids; Honda and Hyundai believe in fuel cells; and Toyota/Lexus has committed to hybrids and fuel cells.