What we think we know about Chrysler's plug-in hybrid minivan, CUV

Chrysler 2013-2018 product slide When the 2016 Town & Country comes to Chrysler dealerships, it will sport something no production minivan has ever had: a plug. That was on bit of news hidden in the massive Fiat Chrysler (FCA) product preview held in Detroit on Tuesday. All FCA would say about the minivan was that the Town & Country PHEV would get 75 MPGe.

We know from the product preview slide (click to enlarge) that there are actually two plug-in hybrids coming from FCA. The minivan and a "full-size crossover," due in 2017. While that could describe the next-gen Dodge Journey, it could also be a brand new peoplemover. All FCA said officially was that it will be a "new vehicle or renewal of existing nameplate," which seems like an awful broad definition. We were curious to know more about these products, so we asked FCA spokesman Eric Mayne. Sadly, he was less than forthcoming, telling AutoblogGreen, "I can only refer you back to the presentations in which the PHEV is mentioned. If the answers aren't there, you'll have to wait."

There are actually two plug-in hybrids coming from FCA.

Well, sure, for actual facts we'll have to wait, but we can still speculate and look into the archives to see what plug-in vehicle technology FCA has offered in the past. Chrysler had an electric vehicle working group called ENVI that created products like an all-electric minivan for the US Postal Service (pictured). ENVI was disbanded in 2009. At the time, the company said plug-in vehicle work would continue, and since then we saw PHEV minivan and PHEV truck test programs from Chrysler and Ram. In early 2012, Chrysler started testing a small, 25-unit fleet of plug-in hybrid-electric Town & Country minivans with the city of Auburn Hills, MI, where the company is located. The $26-million demonstration project was funded in part by the US Department of Energy, which covered $10 million. The stated plan was for those minivans to each hit at least 16,800 miles over two years, but there were hiccups. In September 2012, for example, the liquid-cooled 12.1-kWh batteries from were found to overheat. Those batteries came from Electrovaya and were mated to a 3.6-liter Pentastar engine that could burn E85. Will any of this make it into the production Town & Country PHEV? No idea, but now we know where the company's coming from. FCA also has some EV experience with the Fiat 500e.

Fiat 500e

Chrysler says electrification has been over-blown by the media.

Despite the 500e being a hoot to drive, FCA is not a big fan of electric drive technology, saying that the only reason EVs exist at all is because meanies like the state of California are forcing them to market. The company said, "Electrification has been over-blown by the media. With the exception of a relatively small group of early adopters, the market continues to be primarily driven by regulatory requirements." In other words, don't expect a huge PHEV push once the minivan comes to market. FCA also doesn't like hydrogen as an energy carrier, since fuel cells are, "not commercially viable for mainstream automobiles."

That leaves standard hybrids as a way for FCA to reach the stricter upcoming fuel economy regulations. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said that the company's upcoming mild hybrids (no word on which cars) would use a "belt-driven generator" system. That means mild hybrids, which often can not move a car on electric power for very far and have not been particularly popular segment. Green Car Reports says that FCA is also still buying itself time by snapping up emissions credits from other automakers.

There was one more bit of minivan news from the news barrage yesterday. We heard that FCA would be killing off the Dodge Caravan name, but it's not as cut and dry as all that. When asked if the name "Chrysler Caravan" could be used, Marchionne said it was possible.

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