Quote Of The Day: Chrysler's Fuel Economy Crunch Edition

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

As the automaker that’s least-prepared for upcoming increases in federal fuel economy standards, it was more than a little surprising to find that Fiat’s five year plan for Chrysler did not involve any significant plans for hybrid drivetrain development. But more recently, CEO Sergio Marchionne has said a hybrid Chrysler 300 would be offered in 2013, and the firm hooked up with the feds to work on a hydraulic hybrid drivetrain. And though new CAFE regulations offer generous credits for hybrid pickups, a policy choice that rescues Chrysler’s investment in “Two Mode” hybrid technology, more will have to be done. For, in the words of Marchionne [via Automotive News [sub]],

I have no other way of getting to 2025 numbers than by going to hybrids

But Chrysler won’t rely fully on hybrids in order to make the significant fuel economy improvements it needs. In fact, it will be relying as much on diesels and compressed natural gas (CNG) drivetrains as anything else.

AN [sub] reports

Marchionne said Chrysler’s hybrids would be in addition to a broad offering of diesel-powered vehicles in the United States.

He said Chrysler will begin offering a diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee in 2013, and thereafter most Chrysler Group large vehicles will offer a diesel in the United States.

Which is an interesting revelation. First of all, it calls into question Bob Lutz’s analysis of the difficulties of bringing diesels in line with US emissions standards. Lutz argues that the benefits don’t outweigh the costs and compromises, but clearly Marchionne disagrees. And yet he clearly realizes that there are easier feats: Chrysler’s five year plan called for a stop-start, diesel Wrangler in 2010… and yet that still hasn’t materialized. Jeep CEO Michael Manley noted back in early 2010 that

We have no plans at the moment for diesel Jeeps in North America

Clearly that’s no longer the case… which means Chrysler’s product plans are relatively fluid. And if diesel were a cure-all, we’d be seeing them already. It seems that Chrysler’s approach to the new CAFE standards are based more in desperation than any clear strategy. That impression is compounded by Chrysler’s talk of CNG drivetrains. Though the technology holds great promise for energy independence, and Fiat is Europe’s leader in CNG technology, Marchionne’s comments on the prospect of US-market CNG offerings are fairly equivocal:

The likelihood of that happening is uncertain, but I’m still hopeful that at least a sizable portion of the U.S. market will develop CNG capability. And we are ready

In short, Chrysler has no clear plan to become competitive in fuel economy, which I happen to believe is as important for ongoing commercial success as it is for meeting US CAFE standards. Chrysler may beat back some of its over-reliance on full-sized RWD cars and large pickups and SUVS by bringing more Fiat-based vehicles to market, but the projected impact of those models seems to be on the decline. Subcompact B-segment cars planned for Dodge and Chrysler have been canceled, as has a compact Chrysler, and the firm will be stuck with its not-wildly-efficient midsizers until 2014. Moreover, Chrysler is going to have to rebuild a reputation for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles at time when its domestic competition will be solidifying their new reps for quality small cars on the strength of products that are already on the marketplace (think Fiesta and Focus, Cruze and Sonic… to say nothing of Hyundai’s emerging dominance in this area).

In short, Chrysler is living proof that the auto bailout will not produce the promised “new generation of green cars.” And its emerging plan gives no reason to expect that to change anytime soon.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Jimboy Jimboy on Oct 20, 2011

    I'm more in line with the thinking that there will not be just one way to better fuel economy, ie - hybrids or pure electrics, but that there will be multiple strategies played out regarding fuel economy. The rules aren't even set yet, so it's pretty hard to make a firm commitment to just one technology - hybrids. I also would like to see more attention paid to CNG, a cheap, abundant fuel source, that is less polluting than gasoline or electric (as in coal fired) energy. Sergio is simply playing a waiting game to see where the technology falls out, as opposed to jumping on the hybrid bandwagon. So far, the only people loving Hybrid/Electric technology are the media (who don't pay for the vehicles they praise) and a few (less than 1%) people who think they are doing the planet a favor by using coal to power their battery driven vehicles.

  • Ciddyguy Ciddyguy on Oct 20, 2011

    While I'm a bit disappointed that Marchione doesn't seem to have a clear picture on how to improve fleet mileage, but he WILL have to rethink his current strategy in moving the entire fleet down at least one size, the Charger/Challenger could be made a bit smaller, as the 300, though it being what it is, it can remain where it is, more or less size wise but make it as energy efficient as possible but then flesh out the lower end of the line up with a higher, perhaps more bespoke C segment car that can easily reach the upper 30's at the very least to help the Chrysler lineup's mileage numbers. Ditto for Dodge and Jeep by relying on smaller models from perhaps as small as the little Fiat Panda to no larger than the JGC, or even have it downsized some to make it lighter and more fuel efficient. But they may WELL have a lack of a clear plan as they themselves are scrambling to rethink past strategies. But if they DO have a plan, it may not be finalized yet and thus Marchione isn't saying anything quite yet as I think it's because they've revealed plans, only to redo them months later. It's just a hunch, but I would think in the end, once they have a clear direction, things will settle out and I think they'll do alright for the future but as it is right now, they have A LOT on their plate, but here but in Europe. But I DO agree with you that it will require various solutions to help bring the CAFE numbers up and I expect gas prices (which hover around $3.95-3.99 a gallon for 87 unleaded at some stations here in Seattle now) to go up as early as early next year. I'm staking my claim as I plan on replacing my aging truck with a small car, A or B segment size in hatchback form.

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