Chrysler will add a hybrid gas-electric minivan to its lineup as early as 2013, Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said Tuesday. This follows news from the 2011 Detroit auto show that Chrysler will produce a gas-electric hybrid version of the Chrysler 300 by 2013. Marchionne made the announcement while addressing workers at Chrysler’s assembly plant in Windsor, Canada.
Production of a fuel-efficient hybrid minivan from one of the leaders in the segment is good news for hybrid fans, which have been clamoring for a seven-seat hybrid minivan since the introduction of gas-electric cars in the United States in late 1999. Last week, Ford announced plans to produce hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Ford C-Max microvan by 2012. The Ford C-Max has much of the functionality of a minivan—including potential seating for seven—but is not as big as today’s American minivans and does not have sliding doors. Toyota last week also unveiled its Prius V hybrid wagon, which has more room than the traditional Prius, but seats five.
Rethinking the Minivan
Marchionne made a long-term commitment to minivan. “We’re not going to give up one inch of territory in terms of our domination of the segment,” he said. “But more importantly, you need to realize that we need to adapt to the changing condition of the market.” That translates to more versatility, higher fuel economy, and probably a smaller footprint.
While headlines about a Chrysler hybrid minivan are using 2013 as a release date, Marchionne’s exact comments were punctuated with “probably” and “hopefully.” He said the new minivan architecture “will probably be in the marketplace hopefully by 2013 or 2014.” Marchionne said that the company will “rethink” the minivan, and it might not look like what a minivan looks like today.
“We’re going to do all the right things technically. I know there was some rumors that we were going to announce hybrid stuff for this van,” Marchionne said. “We can do all these things. Assume that it will happen in due time, and that we’re not going to blow our trumpet and look for recognition before we’re ready to do them.”
Chrysler will use new in-house hybrid technology, not the so-called “two-mode hybrid” system co-developed with General Motors and BMW. Detroit News also reported that Marchionne will soon make an announcement with Lisa Jackson, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about funding for evaluating a new drivetrain technology. Considering the Obama Administration’s past support of plug-in technology, Chrysler’s new electric-drive system could be compatible with plug-in hybrids and full electric cars.
Ralph Gilles, head of the Dodge brand, also said a hybrid version of the Dodge Charger was in the works.
Update (1/20/11): Chrysler’s announcement with the E.P.A. was not about testing plug-in technology. Instead, it was about the evaluation of the E.P.A.’s patented hydraulic hybrid technology—the transfer of hydraulic fluid in high-pressure chambers—in minivans. The E.P.A. and Chrysler anticipate the use of a hydraulic hybrid system could improve the fuel efficiency of a minivan by as much as 35 percent.