Detroit Auto Show: AutoblogGreen Q&A with Nick Cappa of Chrysler

Chrysler had three of their trademark show-biz press conferences at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. Following the final one AutoblogGreen spoke to Chrysler Advanced Technology Communication spokesman Nick Cappa about some of the group's alternative fuel plans

ABG: Chrysler is partnered with GM and BMW on the two-mode hybrid development and I wanted to find out what's going on with that as far as Daimler Chrysler's timing, and what vehicles we will see?

NC: The first vehicle you're going to see from Daimler Chrysler with the two-mode system is going to be a Dodge Durango in 2008.

ABG: Is that going to be just rear drive or all-wheel drive?

NC: Haven't said for sure, but it'll likely be all-wheel drive.

ABG: And what about the plug-in hybrid you mentioned a moment ago.

Continue reading Nick's responses to questions about PHEVs, diesels and fuel cells after the jump.

NC: We have a few different hybrid programs. The one that we continually sell right now is probably the most successful hybrid program, is actually a transportation bus program. They're all series hybrids. They have a diesel engine that runs at an aggressive RPM, say 3,000 rpm. It's the most efficient RPM and it charges batteries and the whole thing's an electric vehicle basically. They have a large volume of those, it's the Orion Hybrid Bus Line. Now the plug-in hybrids that we have is a small concept fleet. Four of them here in the United States. There's going to be up to 40 in the United States over the next, the next four or five years – the program's pretty extensive. It's in cooperation with EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, to develop a vehicle to use the grid. Now we use a Sprinter van for this concept because it adapts really well for this, it lends itself really well to a plug-in hybrid. It goes through, it does a short route during the day and returns to the base at night. One of the customers that has one of our plug-in hybrids is the New York Times, kind of a perfect situation where it goes out on its route, which is probably less than 20 miles, delivers its papers and comes back and plugs in. The vehicle has the ability to drive up to 20 miles on electric power only. It actually has a switch on the dashboard that allows you to switch it into electric only power, otherwise, it turns into a normal hybrid. The vehicles have different power-trains, some of them are gasoline, some of them are diesel, some of them are lithium-ion technology. Some of them are nickel metal hydride battery technology. It's a combination of everything to see what works really well.

ABG: What about diesels, spreading them out beyond the Ram trucks? You had the Liberty program for a while. That's not being built right now. What are Chrysler's plans as far as diesels in the U.S. market?

NC: We have a long-term strategy on our diesels. The initial program was the Jeep Liberty, it was a toe in the water if you will. It was to see how people generally feel about new diesel technology and it was extremely well received. We built and sold a lot more than we expected. The second portion of that strategy was the Grand Cherokee which is the next step. That has a 3-liter diesel Mercedes Benz turbo diesel engine in it. We'll be launching that the first quarter of this year.

ABG: What about for example, the Avenger, last fall in Paris you showed the Avenger concept with a diesel engine in it. Are there any plans to bring something like that to the U.S. market?

NC: Well because of BlueTec technology, the ability to bring 50-state diesels to the United States is a lot more possible. You can do a lot more with after-treatment systems now. We haven't said what types of vehicles we're going to be putting more diesels engines into for the United States, but you can expect a few more over the next couple of years.

ABG: So we can expect to see some smaller passenger-car type vehicles with diesel engines possibly?

NC: Every vehicle's under consideration right now. I can tell you this though, over half the vehicles we sell in Europe, over half, are diesel.

ABG: The European market in general is diesel friendly, in some places, it's as much as 80 percent diesel. France I think is 70 or 80 percent diesel.

NC: BlueTec's going to make it a lot easier to do that, to make those cars available here. The first vehicle we're going to use with BlueTec is the Grand Cherokee. But the others won't be for another couple of years.

ABG: What about fuel cells?

NC: Here's my plug. Daimler Chrysler has the largest fuel cell vehicle fleet in the world bar none. There's not another manufacturer out there that has more vehicles on the road. There's a lot more zero emission miles. And we don't just have passenger cars. We have vans and buses that are in operation daily. Some of the cars we don't even see until they, if they have an issue with them, that's the only time we see them. We get a lot of data, when our customers are done with them for the night, they wirelessly download the data. We're at a point right now, as I said, where we have over 100 fuel cell vehicles, but the next generation fuel cell or F-cell, which is a passenger car, is to be based on what's available in Europe called a B-class. It's a little bit bigger vehicle. It meets the new range expectations, new lifetime expectations. One of the big issues right now is hydrogen storage and making sure that we can build a fuel cell vehicle that meets the range requirements expected by customers. There's three huge motivators, three extensive motivators for fuel cell vehicles. One is the efficiency. They are up to three times more efficient than a gasoline engine or combustion engine. The same amount of energy that it takes you to drive one mile on a gasoline combustion engine vehicle, you can drive about three in a fuel cell vehicle. Another one is zero emissions and that it takes the automobile out of the emissions equation altogether. The third one is that it doesn't use oil at all. So hydrogen right now has the greatest potential as the nation's next energy source. That's what we're going for. We're aggressively committed at this point.

ABG: Is Daimler Chrysler doing their own in-house fuel cell development, for the fuel cell stacks, or are they working with suppliers? I think at some point at least you were working with Ballard.

NC: We're still working very closely with Ballard. Ballard puts together the stacks and cells and develops the stacks. We work on the system and integrating the stacks and software and everything else to the vehicle.

ABG: Thank you very much for your time Nick.

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