Durango Slated for Hybrid

April 9, 2006





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DaimlerChrysler AG’s top brass has never been big fans of hybrid vehicles because the company’s executives believe that diesel engines offer a better and less expensive way to meeting rising demand for better fuel efficiency.

The public’s generally favorable perception of hybrids has given the green machines an important boost, though, despite the technology’s shortcomings, DaimlerChrysler officials say. And that’s why the company is bowing to market forces and is now committed to bringing out a new hybrid SUV within the next couple of years. The Chrysler Group confirmed last week it plans to offer a hybrid version of the Dodge Durango starting in 2008.

TheDurango will be the first hybrid gas-electric vehicle offered by the Chrysler Group and will incorporate the very latest fuel-saving technology, DaimlerChrysler officials said. The addition of the hybrid powertrain also will make it easier for the Durango line to meet the tougher fuel economy standard being imposed by the federal government in the next few years.

The hybrid Durango will feature a two-mode hybrid system developed jointly by DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, and the BMW Group under the auspices of a project first launched back in 2004 when automakers were still debating whether the technology would ever catch on with the public.

Frank Klegon, Chrysler Group executive vice president of product development, said the new package will boost the fuel economy of the Durango by as much as 25 percent.

“The advanced two-mode hybrid system, which we will first offer in the Dodge Durango, leapfrogs traditional hybrid design by improving fuel economy and performance at higher speeds as well as city driving cycles,” said Klegon.

“The Durango hybrid will deliver seamless power on demand in an efficient package with motors less than half the size of traditional hybrids,” he added.

With an electrically variable transmission, including two electric motors and two full hybrid modes of operation, the drive system improves fuel economy by operating at low speeds around town and at higher speeds on highways, he said.

Larry Lyons, Chrysler Group vice president in charge of small-car engineering, also said that DaimlerChrysler is looking at ways of packaging a hybrid system into smaller vehicles such as the Jeep Compass. However, the Chrysler Group has not yet decided whether it will actually build a smaller hybrid, he said. The project has gotten a lot of attention, however, he said.

Meanwhile Chrysler Group engineers have modified the floor, second-row seats, and electrical system of the 2007 Durango to prepare the for hybrid version, which will be tied to the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine.
George Murphy, the Chrysler Group’s senior vice president for global brand marketing, said the changes in the interior were carried out along with a significant changes to the exterior that will give the 2007 Durango a fresh look only three years after the first introduction of the current model.

Murphy also the 2007 Dodge Durango has been upgraded to include new standard features such as stability control, side-curtain airbags, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Several new convenience features are available on the new Durango, including ParkSense ultrasonic rear park assist, one-touch lane-change signal, stain-resistant fabric, express-up-and-down front windows, 115-volt outlet, quad bucket seats, remote start, and 20-inch wheels.

Sales of the latest Durango have tailed off after a very strong start back in 2004. At least part of the decline has been attributed to the drop in the sales of larger, body-on-frame SUVs. Buyers have moved away from the old SUVs towards more fuel-efficient crossover vehicles or luxury vehicles.

Joe Eberhardt, Chrysler Group executive vice president for sales and marketing, insisted last week that he did not believe the shift out of the mid-size sport-utility vehicle was permanent. The segment still attracts plenty of buyers but hasn’t had a lot of new products lately, which has served to feed the decline in sales, he said.

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