Instead of pursuing its grand plans for hybrids and electric vehicles, Chrysler Group now plans to cut back and has turned its focus onto internal combustion engines that use Fiat technology. In September, Chrysler had been moving towards bankruptcy but it still managed to produce several hybrid and all-electric vehicles to strengthen its green credentials before the federal government.
Bob Nardelli, who was CEO back then, had put hybrids and electrics on the fast track under a separate division called ENVI. He also placed alternative propulsion at the center of Chrysler's survival strategy. At that time, Chrysler was owned by Cerberus Capital Management. The carmaker displayed plug-in hybrid versions of the Chrysler Town & Country minivan and Jeep Wrangler as well as an all-electric sports car called the Dodge Circuit that was designed with Lotus.
But with Fiat providing input, Chrysler has been seen to have improved the fuel economy of its internal combustion engine. Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa said that when the alliance with Fiat was made, there were more chances to improve fuel economy by installing lighter platforms and smaller engines. He added that the vehicles that had been previously associated with ENVI were technology demonstration vehicles.
Currently, Chrysler doesn't plan on making production versions of those ENVI vehicles. The division was later absorbed into Chrysler's powertrain operations. Chrysler terminated plans to construct a Two-Mode hybrid version of the Ram 1500. Production of the two-Mode hybrid versions of the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango SUVs were halted in late 2008 only a few months after it started.
Chrysler is now pursuing a range of fuel-saving technologies with Fiat, which intends to bring its latest gasoline engine to North America. Fiat's 1.4-liter FIRE engine will debut in North America when the Fiat 500 minicar arrives later this year. The MultiAir system improves fuel economy and cuts carbon emissions.
Cappa also said that Fiat has expertise in compressed natural gas, which Chrysler can make use of. Last year, Fiat sold about 200,000 compressed natural gas cars and commercial vehicles in Europe. The only all-electric vehicle now in Chrysler's plan is an electric Fiat 500 that's expected to arrive in 2012. Chrysler is leading the development of the powertrain for the Fiat electric. Chrysler said that this will continue to be the center of competence for electrics and hybrids. Chrysler plans a test fleet of 140 Ram hybrid pickups in 2011.