With higher government fuel economy requirements looming and gas costing about $3 per gallon, Chrysler Group on Thursday announced new measures to boost mileage for its cars and trucks.
The company announced that its new family of V-6 engines would have the ability to drop to three cylinders when less power is needed, raising the fuel economy by 6 to 8 percent.
The company also plans to place its new two-mode hybrid powertrain in more vehicles in its fleet, put a clean diesel engine in the 2009 Jeep Cherokee sport utility vehicle, and alter its 5.7-liter Hemi and 4.7-liter V-8 engines for better gas mileage.
Frank Klegon, executive vice president for product development, said the company is making the investments in anticipation of stronger government fuel economy requirements.
“We’re moving forward with real urgency to improve fuel efficiency across our entire lineup,” Klegon said.
Congress is wrangling over increased government fuel economy standards for automakers. A Senate bill would require a manufacturer’s fleetwide average of 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans by 2020, an increase of about 10 mpg from current levels. Under the plan, automakers would need to boost fuel economy by 4 percent per year from 2020 to 2030.
The industry is backing an alternative measure offered by two Michigan senators. It would require carmakers to meet a fleetwide average of at least 36 mpg for cars by 2022 and 30 mpg for pickups, SUVs and vans by 2025.
Klegon said a single standard for cars and trucks would hurt Chrysler because 70 percent of its lineup is built on truck underpinnings. Generally, truck-based vehicles are less fuel efficient than cars.
In the 2006 Environmental Protection Agency corporate average fuel economy rankings, DaimlerChrysler AG’s fleet, including Chrysler, was the worst at 19.1 mpg. Honda Motor Co. led all manufacturers with 24.2 mpg.
Chrysler also said it would offer a “mild hybrid” powertrain within the next few years. Mild hybrids weigh and cost less than full gas-electric hybrid motors, but allow the engines to shut down at stops, saving fuel, Chrysler said.
The company will explore the possibility of a four-cylinder diesel engine for North America. It also plans to add a new fuel-efficient dual-clutch transmission to its lineup with 2010 model vehicles.
The company said it also has new, more efficient axle technology that will spread to more models, and it plans weight, drag and rolling resistance reductions, as well as aerodynamic improvements on all of its models.
Chrysler in the past month has broken ground on new plants to build its Phoenix V-6 engine family at plants in Trenton, Mich.; Kenosha, Wis.; and in Mexico, and on Thursday it said the engines would be capable of running on only three cylinders.
The two-mode hybrid, developed jointly with General Motors Corp. and BMW AG, uses a computer to chose from thousands of combinations of running on one electric motor, two electric motors, a combination of electric motors and the gasoline engine, or shutting down some of the gas engine’s cylinders.
The result, Chrysler said, is a 25 percent increase in overall fuel efficiency, with nearly a 40 percent increase in the city.
Currently the engines are scheduled to go into the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango SUVs starting next year. The Durango currently gets an estimated 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 on the highway.