Chrysler to make hybrids with Hemis

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

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- 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.

Haulage goes green

By Paul Hudson for CNN

The drive towards more eco-friendly vehicles isn't the preserve of the manufacturers of passenger cars.

Commercial vehicles also contribute to congestion and emissions, and although few of us spare a thought for them most of us rely on them to transport the goods we buy.

At the UK's premier Commercial Vehicle (CV) show in Birmingham, makers were just as keen to promote their green credentials as the most fanatical auto manufacturers.

British manufacturer Vauxhall unveiled a range of panel vans than run on E30 biodiesel, a mixture of conventional diesel and fuel made from renewable resources, meaning carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reduced by up to 20 per cent over similar vehicles running on 100 per cent conventional diesel. It is planning trials of two models with a major fleet customer.

As part of a controlled fleet trial, a number of vans will run on biodiesel B30 across the UK as Vauxhall and its parent company General Motors investigate the long-term potential for the fuel in the UK, and look towards a more widespread distribution network for it.

Biodiesel is made from naturally renewable sources such as sunflower and rapeseed oils, where the oil is extracted and transformed into a methyl ester. Biodiesel B30 is a mixture of 30 per cent biodiesel and 70 per cent conventional diesel.

Emissions from the fuel are reduced because plants grown for conversion to biodiesel actually absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Although biodiesel can be produced from a variety of sources, quality is critical, and GM is calling on the EU and the UK government to look at establishing a quality specification for the fuel.

Vauxhall's managing director, Bill Parfitt, said: "Fuel efficiency is already one of the top priorities for our commercial vehicle customers. Payload and duty cycles mean downsizing is generally not an option, so achieving further CO2 reductions becomes a real challenge."

"The introduction of biodiesel B30-compatible models is one way GM can help customers reduce their CO2 emissions and is part of General Motors' wider commitment to alternative fuels and advanced propulsion systems -- we're very pleased to be the first manufacturer planning to fully trial the fuel in the UK."

"Of course, governments have an important role to play as well, specifically in terms of ensuring the quality and wider availability of the fuel, and providing incentives to encourage customers to buy it."

The biodiesel B30-compatible vans aren't the only vehicles offered by General Motors to successfully use biofuels. Swedish auto brand Saab introduced petrol-based BioPower vehicles in 2005, which are capable of running on any combination of petrol and bioethanol E85.

The increased use of platform sharing, in which a whole range of passenger cars and commercial vehicles are planned one chassis platform, makes it easier for manufacturers to roll out fuel-efficient technologies.

There's also a drive towards battery-powered vehicles -- particularly for short-distance, urban use -- although s are still seen as the longer-term solution.

The development of wholly electric vehicles has been spurred by the planned Low Emission Zone (LEZ) restrictions in London. Other makers that are simply keen to show their green credentials, through dramatic emission reductions (including carbon dioxide and noise), are showing great interest in diesel-electric hybrids.

As yet, there are no CV hybrids available in the UK market. Most are still at the prototype stage and, as Toyota and Honda have found with their Prius and Civiv passenger car petrol-electric hybrids, involve considerable investment before any profitability can even be considered.

Therefore, in the CV world at least, electric vehicles are seen as viable in the short term. Despite shortcomings in weight, range and performance -- mainly connected with limitations of current battery technology -- they are simpler and less costly than an equivalent hybrid.

Smith Electric Vehicles of Tyne and Wear, whose milk-floats have been used by dairies all over the UK for more than 40 years, unveiled a range of electric vehicles at the CV show

The adoption of sodium nickel chloride batteries in place of the hitherto ubiquitous lead-acid type are at the heart of what is claimed to be the technology breakthrough for SEV. These power packs are about 80 per cent than lead-acid units with the same energy storage, and deliver more performance.

The converted Ford Transit on show has a claimed top speed of 80kph (50mph) in combination with a range of up to 240km (150 miles).

Modec uses the same battery technology for its electric vehicles, and says that UK supermarket giant Tesco will be using the vehicle for home deliveries of groceries. The new trucks can carry a two ton payload, have a 100-mile range and a top speed of 50mph, all on one overnight charge.

GM: The new green carmaker?

The planet's biggest car company shows off its Earth-friendly side.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The belief that General Motors has all the environmental sensitivity of a panda fur wholesaler has been widespread for a long time.

This is a company that has, in recent memory, relied on its largest, least fuel-efficient vehicles for profits, making it an easy target for environmentalists.

Kicking things off at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, the world's largest automaker embarked on a big campaign to change that image.

There was an environmental theme at the show that even included a competition among California-based auto designers to come up with the niftiest enviro-friendly fantasy cars. GM won that competition with the Hummer O2, an off-roader with algae-filled body panels that produce oxygen from sunlight.

Out on the show floor, Ford and Honda both are both showing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. But it's GM, again, that's really making the big green push.

It's appropriate that GM kicks this off in California, the state that, basically, required manufacturers to sell electric cars in the 1990s. Several manufacturers did, including Ford, Honda and Toyota, and all decided there was no market for those vehicles. They all stopped producing them for good as soon as the rules changed.

GM alone, however, has born the PR fall-out for that decision after a recent documentary drew attention to its decision to withdraw and destroy its EV1 electric cars.

Now, GM says, it's getting back into "electrified vehicles" with products it hopes consumers will ultimately find more palatable.

None of the fuel-saving vehicles GM showed at the L.A. Auto Show will have a big impact on the company's sales any time soon. Even the hybrid vehicles coming out in the next two years won't do much because s still represent a tiny fraction of the U.S. car market.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are still in the distant future as a mass-market item, but GM took a small step forward with 50 road-ready Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles.

That's half the 100 that the company will give to "everyday drivers, celebrities and policymakers" to drive around L.A., Washington, D.C., and New York in what the company is calling "Project Driveway." GM will listen ardently to their feedback, the company says.

Also on display at the show: the Chevrolet Sequel fuel cell vehicle. This is a more advanced vehicle, built for from the start as hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.

In hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, a chemical process that makes water out of hydrogen and oxygen also releases electricity that drives the car.

"With Chevrolet being GM's global volume brand, it makes sense that Chevy will lead GM's fuel cell vehicle charge," said Ed Peper, Chevrolet's General Manager, in an announcement prepared for the show.

Saturn, meanwhile, is taking the point position in GM's roll-out of its gas/electric hybrid technologies. Coming to market long after Toyota, Honda and Ford had begun selling hybrid vehicles, GM's first hybrid, the Saturn Vue Green Line, is just entering dealerships now.

It's a "mild hybrid," meaning its electric motor lacks enough power to actually drive the vehicle alone. Critics call it a cheap way to make a hybrid, but that, says GM, is part of the benefit. Their Vue's hybrid system costs consumers less to buy because it costs less to make.

The other advantage of the "mild hybrid" system is that requires just a small battery pack. You can see that in the new Aura Green Line sedan. Other hybrid sedans lose trunk space to make room for batteries, but not this one.

In 2008, a completely redesigned Saturn Vue SUV becomes available with the same "full hybrid" system GM is using on its large SUVs. That Vue is expected to get a 45 percent improvement in fuel economy compared to the regular V-6-powered Vue. The current "mild hybrid" Vue gets only a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy. (Actual mileage numbers aren't available yet.)

The redesigned Vue with full- and mild-hybrid systems will be available to consumers at the same time, the company says. You can take your choice. Lower price or more fuel economy.

Someday, a plug-in hybrid version of the Vue will become available, GM promises. That vehicle will use the full-hybrid system, but with the additional capability of having its batteries charged from a wall outlet.

The plug-in Vue will be able to drive for more than 10 miles at moderate speeds using electricity only, according to GM.

But that requires much more advanced battery technology than anyone currently has at hand. So, while the rest of the system is ready to go, GM says, it has to wait to wait for battery suppliers to come up with a something that's up to the task.

At the end of Wagoner's presentation, two men went up on stage with a huge paper they asked Wagoner to sign. They said it was a pledge for GM to be the leader in fuel economy by 2010.

Wagoner replied, "I think my speech speaks for itself."

There's virtually no way GM will be the leader in fuel economy in just four years. But perhaps, by then, it can remove the big "Kick me, I'm bad for the planet" sign from its corporate back.