Chrysler Says No to Hybrids...For Now

  • 2009 Chrysler Aspen

    2009 Chrysler Aspen  (Chrysler)

  • 2010 Dodge Viper Final Edition

    2010 Dodge Viper Final Edition

Chrysler used the stage at the 2011 North American International Auto Show to highlight not just one or two new cars, but an entire revamped lineup. In a Herculean effort to erase the cost-cutting errors of “Old Chrysler,” over the past year the automaker has replaced or refurbished nearly every passenger car and crossover in builds.

The restyled bodies and upscale interiors go a long way toward making the vehicles serious competitors in the marketplace, and it’s no different under the hood. Along with the latest versions of Chrysler’s well-known HEMI V8 engines, a new six-cylinder motor -- called the Pentastar V6 -- is now available in most models, aside from the company’s smallest offerings. The advanced powerplant is both more potent and more fuel-efficient than the outdated ones that it replaces.

The only thing missing at the show: hybrids. Not only does Chrysler currently not make any, but it does not intend to do so in the foreseeable future.

Dodge President and CEO Ralph Gilles told that “the hybrid's a great solution, but it’s still several, $8,000 more expensive than a traditional powertrain.” He added that “there’s no one making money on hybrids right now in the industry. As popular as they are -- the media loves them -- but the fact is they are really money losers.”

And his company knows something about it. In 2008 it sold a handful of hybrid Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen SUVs until the conventional models that they were based on were discontinued later that year. Even priced at $45,000, the vehicles proved to be unprofitable, and plans to introduce a hybrid Ram pickup truck were scrapped in 2010.

“For the everyday person that needs a car like a minivan, there’s just no way we can offer a vehicle in the mid-$25,000 range that's the size of a minivan and still be functional. People just won’t pay the overage,” Gilles says.

Instead, Chrysler will focus on making its traditional internal combustion engines more economical. The first batch of products developed in conjunction with its new parent company, Fiat, is scheduled to hit U.S. roads next year. The Italian automaker is an industry leader in building small, fuel-efficient engines. Its Multiair-branded motors employ a simple, low-cost solution to the complex variable valve intake systems found in many cars today, and is expected find its way into a number of upcoming Chrysler products. Recently announced eight- and nine-speed automatic transmissions should dramatically impact fuel economy, as well.

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Still, Gilles says that Chrysler hasn’t completely given up on hybrids, and that it has over 200 engineers dedicated to developing the technology until a business case can be made to reintroduce it. In the meantime, a low-volume, all-electric version of the Fiat 500 subcompact is scheduled to on sale in the United States in 2012.

On the other end of the spectrum, Dodge has confirmed that it will be reviving the Viper nameplate soon, too. Gilles has previously said that the new supercar will be more sophisticated and refined than the high performance brute that it replaces. He has yet to reveal any details about its specifications, but describes the car as "scintillating." When asked if we’ll be seeing the return of the previous Viper’s 600 horsepower, 8.4-liter V10 engine, the sports car enthusiast said that he can’t talk about it, punctuating his answer with a knowing wink.

Rumors surrounding the new Viper do not include a hybrid model.

Click here for the full interview with Ralph Gilles in's Detroit Auto Show Special