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Chrysler Fiat shuns fuel cells as ‘not viable’

Short circuit: Fiat has tried electric car technology with its 500e, but has pulled back from the electrification in its mid-term model roll out.

New four-cylinder engine family for Fiat Chrysler, but no fuel cells or full EVs

8 May 2014

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has declared fuel-cell vehicles not commercially viable for mainstream vehicles.

The Italian-American conglomerate also has dissed widespread electrification of cars, saying the trend has been overblown by the media and has not gained widespread traction in the marketplace.

While its says it will introduce a plug-in hybrid minivan to the Chrysler range in 2016 and follow up with some mild-hybrid applications, it points out in its latest five-year plan that these moves are primarily designed to comply with zero-emissions vehicle requirements in the United States.

Instead, the company will focus on improving traditional powertrains and reducing the weight and aerodynamic drag of cars to drive down fuel consumption to meet tough new official carbon dioxide emissions limits in major markets from 2020.

The statements came in a presentation by FCA vice-president Bob Lee on global powertrain plans for FCA between now and 2018 at the company’s wide-ranging investor relations presentation in Detroit this week.

While Mr Lee said the overarching driver for powertrain technology change over the next five or more years would be the need to cut CO2 emissions – from both regulatory and customer demand points of view – FCA would focus on technologies that would deliver the greatest bang for the buck.

He pointed to FCA’s introduction of eight- and nine-speed automatic transmissions as being one form of cost-effective technology now being rolled out across the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Fiat ranges.

36 center imageLeft: FCA vice-president Bob Lee.

He also said that diesel – currently accounting for almost half of FCA vehicle sales in Europe – also could deliver similar fuel consumption outcomes as petrol-electric hybrid or compressed natural gas.

Fiat sells an all-electric version of its bambino small car, the 500e, in some markets, including the United States where the car attracts up to $13,000 in incentives.

Mr Lee said car-makers would require more costly technologies to meet CO2 requirements beyond 2016, with hybrid technologies starting to come into their own.

Chrysler’s five-year product plan reveals two plug-in hybrid vehicles – a petrol-electric Town & Country people-mover to be launched in 2016 and a “full-sized crossover” with similar technology from 2017.

But although rivals such as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are planning to launch hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from as early as next year, there is no sign of such technology in the FCA product portfolio.

Mr Lee went out of his way to dismiss the short-term potential for fuel cell propulsion, saying that despite a strong regularity push by the California Air Resources Board, “fuel cells are not commercially viable for mainstream vehicles”.

“The technology is too expensive and the infrastructure to create and distribute hydrogen with a net CO2 footprint reduction is not in place,” he said.

Mr Lee announced a new family of small-displacement petrol engines was being developed for FCA’s various model ranges, consolidating the current engine range covering 11 displacements and a wide variety of tunes and designs down to one fundamental family with two displacements and a mix of tunes.

One of these new engines will likely power the new Fiat sportscar to be built in conjunction with Mazda’s MX-5 from 2015.

FCA appears set to retain its V6 and V8 engine ranges, although sales of vehicles with these large-capacity engines are expected to fall in North America from 73 per cent now to 52 per cent in 2018.

In Asia-Pacific, which includes both China and Australia, V6 and V8 engines are expected to slip from the current 17 per cent of FCA sales to just 4.0 per cent within five years.

Meanwhile, diesel engine take-up is expected to double from 5.0 per cent to 10 per cent in Asia-Pacific in the same time frame.

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