Last November, FIAT-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and his lieutenants spent a long day laying out the details of their plans for a new Chrysler that would compete on all fronts, including cars that would compete in a growing field of hybrid and electric cars. Since then, an electric version of the FIAT 500 has made the round of auto shows—and is scheduled to go on sale in 2012. The company also announced plans for a small test fleet of Dodge Ram plug-in hybrid pickups—backed by a $48 million Department of Energy grant. (The conventional hybrid version of the Ram was canceled, after years of development.) And, of course, the company still sells the GEM, a line of neighborhood electric vehicles. Other than that, the company has been silent on its green car plans while it struggles to right its balance sheets and bring new volume product to market.
At the Automotive News Detroit Green Car Conference last week, Paulo Ferrero, Chrysler’s senior vice president for powertrain, might have elaborated on the company’s strategy for electrification—since speakers from Nissan, BMW and Think were talking about their companies’ EV strategies already being implemented. His presentation did include a slide or two on plug-ins, but with no new information other than a commitment to “develop a range of technologies for hybrid/electrification across various platforms.” That’s pretty vague and clearly not a commitment to deliver vehicles on a timeline with the competition.
Ferrero did drop a big surprise: natural gas vehicles! It turns out FIAT has CNG powertrains in a full range of vehicles already in Europe (where government incentives and utility support make them an attractive option) and they might find their way over here—along with multi-air engines and a variety of improvements to gas-powered engines and transmissions promising a 25 percent overall fleet average fuel economy improvement for Chrysler’s fleet by 2014.