Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chrysler to make hybrids with Hemis

Durango and Aspen hybrids will use powerful V8 engine for more hauling capability.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Chrysler Group announced Monday that the gas/electric hybrid Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen SUVs to be released in 2008 will be powered by the company's 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine.

The SUVs will use a "two-mode" hybrid system developed by Chrysler in conjunction with General Motors and Germany's BMW. The first vehicle to be sold using the system will be GM's GMC Yukon Hybrid slated to go on sale this fall.

Chrysler, the U.S. arm of DaimlerChrysler, calls the 5.7 liter Hemi, also used in the company's Chrysler 300C and Dodge Charger R/T sedans, its most fuel-efficient V8 engine. The Hemi engine shuts off four of its eight cylinders during highway cruising when their extra power is not needed.

In the hybrid SUVs, that engine will be coupled with electric motors to provide additional power, allowing the gasoline engine to work more efficiently and to shut off altogether whenever the vehicle is stopped. Batteries for the electric motors are charged using power from the gasoline engine.

Chrysler promises a 40 percent improvement in fuel economy in city driving and a 25 percent improvement in overall economy compared to the non- Hemi-powered SUVS.

The closely related Hemi-powered Durango and Aspen are estimated to get about 15 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, according to the EPA. That would increase to just under 19 miles per gallon overall in the hybrid versions, according to Chrysler's estimates.

Using the 345-horsepower V8 engine preserves hauling and towing capabilities that are important to Durango and Aspen buyers, according to Chrysler. Both SUVs are currently available with a smaller, less powerful V8 engine but the smaller engine does not provide better fuel economy, according to EPA estimates.

"We have to think hard about the consumer who buys vehicles like the Dodge Durango and the Chrysler Aspen," said Mark Chernoby, Chrysler Group vice president for advanced vehicle engineering, in a recording made available to journalists. "These are people who want to have hauling capability."

The two-mode hybrid system is designed to provide the most efficient performance in both city and highway driving, according to GM and Chrysler. The system is engineered to fit almost entirely within the vehicle's transmission tunnel, making it easier to adapt for use in different vehicles.

Chrysler does not currently offer any hybrid vehicles. GM currently sells a "mild hybrid" version of its Saturn VUE crossover SUV and will beginning offering more hybrid SUVs next year. Ford currently sells hybrid versions of its small Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner crossover SUVs and will begin offering hybrid versions of some of its cars next year.

Last year, more than half of the hybrid vehicles sold in the U.S. were produced by Japan's Toyota Motor Corp., according to Power Information Networks.


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