DaimlerChrysler Warms Up to Hybrids

In January 2004, Thomas Weber, DaimlerChrysler’s board member responsible for research and technology, gave a long list of reasons why he dislikes hybrids: they cost a lot more, they are much heavier, the batteries don’t last, and they won’t retain resale value. Weber concluded, “Looking at the big picture, we believe an advanced diesel technology is a better solution.”

"Proponents should not oversell diesel technology as a silver bullet," said David Friedman, research director for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Vehicles Program. "They still can’t match the pollution performance of today’s cleanest gasoline cars."

What a Difference a Year Makes

On December 13, 2004, DaimlerChrsyler and GM announced they would team up to build hybrid systems that will help both companies develop fuel-efficient vehicles faster and more cheaply. As BusinessWeek reported, "Fact is, GM and Daimler have little choice: Hybrids are fast becoming America’s fuel-saver of choice, and the longer these two wait, the further behind technology leader Toyota Motor Corp. they risk falling." In the story, Brett Smith, analyst at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Mich., commented "Neither company was sold on hybrids two years ago, but they’ve realized there’s a market."

In March 2005, Zetsche was still fending off questions about how late DaimlerChrysler was to begin hybrid development and about the quality of hybrids coming out of the G.M. partnership. He quipped, "As my wife often says, if you know you’re going to arrive a bit late to the dinner party, be sure you bring the best wine." To Zetsche, the good wine is the two-mode hybrid system being developed in the G.M partnership.

In September 2005, Thomas Weber had apparently still not received his invitation to the party. He said "In the United States, we believe that diesels will pass the 10 percent threshold before hybrids do."

Rick Wagoner, Chairman and CEO of General Motors Corporation, and Dieter Zetsche, President and CEO of the Chrysler Group, begin the struggle to catch up with the Japanese on hybrid cars.

Fast-forward to 2007 and you’ll find Chrysler ready to part ways with Daimler. Somewhere in that confusion, the company has announced plans to release its first hybrids: gas-electric versions of the 2008 Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango—both using a 5.7 liter Hemi V8 engine. The decision to mate the two-mode hybrid system with those monster SUVs speaks volumes about Chrysler’s attitudes and understanding of the hybrid market.