Chrysler Pulls Plug-In Test Fleet Due To Fires. Battery Cell Upgrade In Progress
At one time, Chrysler was the envy (pun intended) of the plug-in community, as its ENVI lineup of electric vehicles looked poised to capture a huge share of the plug-in share for North America. Then bankruptcy came and threatened the program, but in the end, it was Fiat that wanted no part of an electric future, and discontinued Chrysler’s EV plans.
This past weekend, the remnants of that program, funded mostly by the U.S. Department of Energy (when advanced technology money was easy to acquire) perhaps suffered a death blow as the 109 hybrid plug-in Ram trucks and 23 Chrysler Town & Country plug-in hybrid minivans were recalled after three of the trucks caught fire recently.
Chrysler words this development a little more gently:
“Three of the fleet’s 109 pickups equipped with plug-in hybrid powertrains sustained damage when their prototype 12.9-kWh lithium-ion propulsion batteries overheated.”
Again. They caught fire.
For the Town & Country vans, no issues had yet developed with their 12.1 kWh lithium battery, however they had only been in service for about 5 months, first seeing duty in mid-April. Those vans were achieving about 22 miles of all electric driving per charge before the recall.
Chrysler said it had no idea how the batteries overheated and caught fire, but that it will complete the DoE project (in order to scoop up the remaining balance of the $123 million dollar program) by replacing the packs with those of a “different battery chemistry.” Probably because that is the path of least resistance to complete the program that was set to run through 2013.
Michael Duhaime, Chrysler global director of electrified powertrain propulsion systems, said the same thing only another way, “This action is being taken to build upon the lessons from the initial deployment and to concentrate resources and technical development on a superior battery.”
The 109 plug-in Ram trucks were capable of 20 miles of all electric range and had cumulatively logged 1.3 million miles over the past two years, while averaging a blended 37.4 MPGe. The 23 plug-in Town & Country fleet had posted an impressive 55 MPGe before the Ram fires.
Past the CARB-compliance Fiat 500E offering that is coming to market very soon, Chrysler had threatened to bring their own plug-in lineup to market after 2014.
However, given the fact Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, has been very outspoken against EVs and US regulations mandating their production, saying “we will lose money on every car we make,” we don’t anticipate doing any cutting-edge Chrysler plug-in test drive reviews anytime soon.