Chrysler has hardly been known as the forerunner of new powertrains – it still proudly offers Hemis with a dazzling two valves per cylinder – but that might be about to change. No, not the engine technology, just the other bits.
Chrysler has announced that it is looking for engineers and designers to work on alternative powertrain technology. The Chrysler career site proudly announces that its new engineers will be working on everything from start/stop engine technology to plug-in hybrids. Pretty impressive. Or it would be if the American automaker had been doing this ten years ago.
As it stands, Chrysler hasn’t offered a hybrid since 2008 when the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango hybrids were canceled almost as soon as they hit showrooms. The only EV Chrysler has to offer, the 500e, comes from the company’s Italian benefactor, FIAT.
The Fiat 500e is good – in fact we liked it better than the gas version when we reviewed it – but it loses Chrysler $10,000 per vehicle. That’s bad. But it’s even worse when you consider that loss is nearly one third of the sale price. Really, the fact that Chrysler is relying on Italian electronics to keep itself relevant in the marketplace should be enough to send anyone who has ever owned – or even been near – an Italian car fleeing in terror.
Despite the hiring announcement, don’t expect any of this to change soon. As recently as August, Bob Lee, head of powertrain development for both FIAT and Chrysler, said that their focus would remain on downsized turbocharged gas and diesel engines, as apparently customers aren’t yet ready to pay the premium for hybrids and EVs. This might come as a surprise to companies like Tesla and Toyota that seem to have done rather well selling people cars with batteries.
Even if Chrysler’s current view sounds a bit archaic, this move is encouraging, as it suggests they know the future success of any automaker is likely to be tied to how well it adapts to new technology. It may not be a coincidence that this move happened in such proximity to the announcement of Chrysler’s initial public offering. After all, potential investors want a company that has a plan for the future to go with its awesome 1960s V8s.
If nothing else, we can hope that these new hires finally get around to selling us a Ram plug-in hybrid that doesn’t explode.