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The defunct 2009 Dodge Durango hybrid  (Source: alexfly via CarGurus)

2012 Chrysler 300

Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant, circa 2007  (Source: The Brampton News)
Chrysler 300 and an unnamed minivan will get the hybrid treatment by Chrysler LLC

Chrysler Group LLC has struggled out of bankruptcy.  While General Motors and Ford Motor Company quickly returned to profitability during the recovery following recession, a smaller Chrysler continued to post losses.  Part of that is due to lack of identity and lack of cutting edge technology.

Chrysler hopes to close the technology gap, in part, with a pair of newly announced hybrids.  The company will offer a hybrid version of its Chrysler 300 sedan next year, and in 2013 will offer a hybrid minivan.  The news was announced by Chrysler and Fiat's joint CEO Sergio Marchionne.

Mr. Marchionne says that Chrysler has developed its own in-house hybrid technology, and will be releasing technical details soon.

The company was completely out of the hybrid game since the 2010 model year.  Its only hybrids historically were a pair of hybrid sports utility vehicles, the 2009 Dodge Durango hybrid and the 2009 Chrysler Aspen hybrid (essentially a rebranded Durango).  Both of those vehicles were low volume and featured a hybrid powertrain co-developed with BMW and GM.  They were discontinued in the 2010 model year.

The status of Chrysler's electric program is far less certain.  The company has been relatively quiet about the topic post-bankruptcy, even as fellow American automakers Ford, Chrysler, and Tesla rush new electric vehicles to the market.  There is talk of an electric Dodge Ram truck, which might still be in the works, and possibly and electric Fiat 500.

The upcoming hybrids will be critical for Chrysler to meet CAFE standards, set into law by the Bush and Obama administrations, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Failure to meet these standards would result in fines, the last thing the already bleeding company needs.

According to Mr. Marchionne, a new fuel saving nine-speed automatic transmission is also in the works, which will help improve the fuel economy of standard-model compacts, minivans, and SUVs.  The new powertrain will make its debut in April 2013, onboard the unnamed replacement to the Dodge Caliber compact.  Mr. Marchionne says a minivan application will soon follow.

Chrysler is also working to revise and globalize its vehicle platform, with a new vehicle architecture that will support a variety of top-hats including a sliding-door minivan, likely in the Dodge brand, and a luxury crossover, likely in the Chrysler brand.  Mr. Marchionne states to The Detroit News, "The architecture would be a lot more capable and allow us to make a minivan-like vehicle as well as others."

Like Ford, Chrysler is working to keep production local.  It will be producing the new architecture vehicles at its plant in Windsor, the Canadian city across the river from Detroit, Michigan.  The plant currently employs 4,300 people and builds 1,452 minivans a day, destined for North American dealerships.  It will soon begin to produce minivans destined for the European market as well, with the addition of tooling to handle 2.8-liter diesel engines.

Addressing the future of the Windsor, Ontario plant, Mr. Marchionne states, "I am here with one message to tell you. The future of this plant is without doubt guaranteed."

Mr. Marchionne acknowledged that his company still had a ways to go to dig itself out of its hole, commenting, "The minivan remains a significant part of our revitalization plan going forward. The success of this plant is crucial to pay back our (government) loans."

Chrysler is awaiting the anticipated the U.S. launch of the Fiat 500 compact, which began production in December.  The vehicle is a best-seller in Europe and may offer the popular Ford Fiesta (a slightly larger subcompact) a bit of competition.




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