Slow to the hybrid party, Chrysler is now planning to play catch-up. The automaker is about to launch its first hybrid-electric vehicles, the 2009 Dodge Aspen and 2009 Dodge Durango HEMI Hybrid sport-utility vehicles. Company officials are suggesting that a number of other HEVs could be added to the lineup, reflecting the sudden “greening” of the American automotive market.
“We feel there is an opportunity for us,” suggested Mike Accavitti, Dodge Brand Director. “Our guys are looking at it.”
The first two Chrysler hybrids feature an all-new hybrid powertrain, dubbed “two-mode” technology. Developed in a joint venture with General Motors, BMW, and Chrysler’s former German partner, Daimler AG, it is designed to deliver improved mileage in both stop-and-go and highway driving conditions. That, the various partners claim, is a distinct advantage over existing hybrid hardware, such as the Synergy Drive system used in Toyota’s popular Prius sedan.
Chrysler expects the two-mode system to deliver a 25 percent boost in mileage for the Aspen and Durango SUVs, compared to the same vehicles with standard, 5.7-liter HEMI engines. Since those V-8s aren’t downsized, the hybrids will maintain their towing and load capacities.
A hybrid version of the new, 2010 Dodge Ram pickup is on the schedule. And Accavitti hinted that newer Chrysler SUVs, such as the new Dodge Journey, could be hybridized, and other models are reportedly under study. Chrysler could use the bragging rights, as it is now suffering from a serious fuel price-related hit to its sales. In recent years, SUVs, pickups and minivans have made up about two-thirds of the automaker’s total volume, though it has recently inked deals with Nissan and the Chinese automaker, Chery, to develop and build new fuel-efficient small cars.