Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge drivers would save money at the pump, under an initiative to improve the fuel efficiency of those vehicles.
Frank Klegon, executive vice president of product development for Chrysler Group, said his company is expanding its effort to produce more fuel-efficient engines, axles and transmissions.
“Fuel economy ranks high on everybody’s list — even the guy that buys big trucks, Klegon said in an interview this month, after announcing several new aspects to the company’s Powertrain Offensive program.
A big part of the program — which had been unveiled in February — is to develop a more technologically advanced engine that simply uses less gas to go a farther distance. But Klegon said the newly expanded program also includes a commitment to the use of hybrid technology and diesel.
He said Chrysler wants to be known for its fuel-efficient vehicles because "we believe it's important and it's one of the characteristics that will stay important" to the purchase decision.
In the works are six- and eight-cylinder gasoline engines with new features that would result in fuel economy gains of 6 to 8 percent, and a dual-clutch transmission with quicker acceleration that also would boast a 6 percent improvement in fuel economy. "Many of these fuel-efficiency initiatives will be incorporated simultaneously into a single vehicle family," ultimately resulting in double-digit percentage fuel economy gains, Klegon said.
A mild-hybrid system — one of the two types of hybrid systems Chrysler is developing — will be in a vehicle within the next few years, according to Klegon.
Mild hybrids provide many of the benefits of hybrid technology without the complications that occur from installing a full-hybrid drivetrain — like added weight to the car and added cost. The mild hybrids, like their full-hybrid counterparts, can turn off their gasoline engines when stopped at traffic lights. They also perform regenerative braking, which captures energy that would otherwise be wasted. The energy is used to recharge the battery pack that powers its electric motor.
Chrysler is also working on a two-mode hybrid system, Klegon said. With this type of system, a vehicle can run on electricity alone under certain conditions, such as when it is moving at slow speeds. The system uses both electric power and internal combustion in high-load conditions, such as intense acceleration or when climbing hills.
The two-mode hybrid system would increase fuel economy by 25 percent overall — and nearly 40 percent in the city — according to Chrysler. This system is expected to show up first on the Chrysler Aspen Hybrid and the Dodge Durango Hybrid, Klegon said.
At the introduction of its Powertrain Offensive in February, Chrysler said it would develop a new family of engines known as the "Phoenix," which would join the lineup in 2010. Klegon expanded on that news with his announcement this month of the V6 cylinder deactivation as a coming feature. This would enable the engine to operate on three cylinders when less power is needed and on six cylinders when more power is needed — increasing fuel economy and overall efficiency.
Klegon said this more technologically advanced engine would replace all of Chrysler's V6 engines in a few-year rollout plan. But he would not discuss which would be the first models to receive it.
He also would not specify the gains to be achieved by a new 5.7-liter Hemi V8. The company is mostly focused on its 4.7-liter at the moment, which is an E85 flex-fuel engine that delivers up to 5 percent better fuel economy than the previous 4.7-liter and a 30 percent increase in horsepower and 10 percent increase in torque.
A new dual-clutch transmission, to be featured in the lineup in 2010, is being developed in partnership with Getrag Corporate Group, an independent transmission manufacturer headquartered in Untergruppenbach, Germany which also works with Volkswagen, Klegon said. It is expected to increase fuel efficiency by 6 percent and also provides quicker acceleration and a refined shift quality.
"The application of the dual clutch is primarily in front-drive vehicles," Klegon said. "It has the efficiencies of a manual transmission with the conveniences of an automatic. The shifts are very controlled and precise, and there’s a significant fuel economy gain."
Chrysler also is expanding its diesel fleet. In a big step toward improving fuel economy on its models, it has announced the 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee Bluetec, which will join the 2007 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty as the second of its clean-diesel vehicles. The vehicles pass emissions requirements in all 50 states.
More could be announced in the future. The company is exploring further uses of its 3.0-liter V6 common-rail diesel engine that is currently in its 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee, along with the possibility of a four-cylinder diesel engine for North America. Chrysler likely would develop the four-cylinder with a partner company, according to Klegon.
Chrysler is hoping to change consumers' perceptions of the brand as "just trucks," Klegon said. “We've brought five new cars to the table in the last year and a half that are all very fuel efficient," he said, referring to the Dodge Caliber and Avenger, the Jeep Patriot and Compass, and the Chrysler Sebring. "The message we have to deliver is on two fronts — showing our new technology and also talking about the new vehicles we've brought out that are more fuel efficient."
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