It’s Looking Like a Green New Year at FCA
Here’s a thought on this season of gifts and resolutions. What if an auto company decides to give its customers the gift of better fuel economy in its most popular vehicles? This is a different proposition than trying to introduce a new, highly efficient vehicle or two. I see it as democratizing fuel efficiency, giving a broader market a real chance to experience advanced automotive technology that they can appreciate in their pocketbook.
It appears that’s what’s up at FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) as its three most popular models covering three popular vehicle segments all get electrified. Here’s run-down of each offering. You may recall a similar type promise from Toyota some time ago—that all of its models would have hybrid variations at some point; that point is still somewhere off in the future, especially for minivans, pickups and SUVs. Most companies are too busy raking in the cash on these popular models to worry about adding expensive technology that the consumer may or may not care about.
FCA is attacking those hot market segments right now and may end up reaping great rewards.
Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid
Plug-in Power to the People
Chrysler invented the mass-market minivan more than three decades ago, a front-drive people-hauler that offered car-like fuel economy with the function of a small bus for hauling people and things (you could slide a 4×8 sheet of plywood into the classic version). The plug-in hybrid version of the Chrysler Pacifica introduced in 2017 had a relatively small battery (16 kilowatt-hour-kWh), but promised to deliver 33 miles of pure electric driving on a full charge. Even if you didn’t plug it in, the Pacifica would deliver 30 mpg combined running in its default hybrid mode, 36% better fuel economy than its Honda or Toyota competition. The price premium for the plug-in minivan was mostly offset by federal and state purchase incentives. All of our key staff have driven this model and came away impressed with it as a top-notch multi-purpose vehicle first with the full-efficiency as a wonderful bonus. A footnote: FCA’s two minivan models (the Pacifica and Dodge Caravan) have bumped up their already dominating market share this year, commanding almost 60 percent of the half-million-unit minivan market towards the end of this year..
Road Test: 2018 Chrysler Pacifica PHEV (Steve’s view)
Road Test: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica PHEV (Larry’s view)
Road Test: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica PHEV (John’s view)
First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica PHEV (Michael’s view)
Ram 1500 eTorque Mild Hybrid
Pickup Power Boost
This isn’t the first time electrifying pickup trucks has been tried, but it may be destined to be the most successful. General Motors has had a couple passes at hybrid pickups with minimal success. That might be explained by the minimal fuel economy increase (about two mpg) achieved only in high-end models priced out of reach of the core pickup market. Ford as well has promised a hybrid pickup, but none has been announced. Other, more specialized competitors like Via Motors have cropped up. FCA’s truck division has now thrown down the gauntlet—and backed it up by capturing Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year award for 2019 for its electric-assist model.
Like the Pacifica, the battery is small. In fact, it’s even smaller (48 volts, 430 watt-hours—less than half a kilowatt-hour). Basically, it offers stop/start and added efficiency throughout the drive cycle, giving a two mpg improvement like the GM system, but at a significantly lower cost. In fact, Motor Trend’s testers even beat the 22 mpg highway EPA estimate for the V8 in their tests (the V6 eTorque adds two more mpg)—not bad for a 5,876-pound truck that can haul more than 1,200 pounds of payload.
On top of the fuel economy boost, the Ram also is getting high marks for loads of tech and comfort features not always found in the pickup segment. The V6 eTorque model also is available in models starting under $32,000. Keep in mind the two mpg boost in a truck this size can equate to a not-insignificant 13 percent boost in fuel economy.
Ram also has another ace up its sleeve in the fuel economy department. The 2019 model was introduced without one of the more popular options from 2018—the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine. While a pricier upgrade than the V8 eTorque motor, it delivers a substantial boost in fuel economy while also bringing along more low-end pulling power. We can’t wait to spend some time with these new eTorque motors to check what they can deliver in the real world.
Tech: 2019 Ram 1500 Hybrid
Road Test: 2016 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel
Jeep Wrangler eTorque Mild Hybrid
An Icon Can Have Better MPG, Too
Let’s put it all out on the table. Jeep did not build its worldwide reputation on fuel economy, though it’s never really been a slouch. Part of that is because for rock-crawling and real Jeep fun, you don’t need horsepower, just torque, which can come in small engine packages. The Wrangler became the powerhouse of the Jeep brand in 2018 (through November), outselling both the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.
The 2018 and 2019 Jeep Wranglers offer a version of the V6 found in the Ram (but without the eTorque battery) as its base engine, but on handing over the 2019 SUV of the Year award, Motor Trend magazine (again!) suggested upping the ante with an optional turbocharged four-cylinder eTorque engine. Both deliver mid-20s fuel economy on the highway and have stop/start capability (the four hits the best number—25 mpg highway). The bottom line is, like the Ram, you get more mpg without diminishing the qualities that are core to the Jeep brand.
Pricing is not an issue since the Wrangler has become almost all-eTorque, all the time. The four-banger with one mpg better highway fuel economy is a $1,000 option, but also requires the automatic transmission, which is another $2,000.
We haven’t had the chance to test the new Wrangler, but hope to spend some time in it during the coming year. We’re looking even more for the diesel and plug-in hybrid models due in the coming years. Wrangler’s adding more electrification and broadening the technology’s appeal, but the big changes will come when Jeep plugs in like the Pacifica.
We have been behind the wheel of some fun vehicles with earlier versions of the 2.0-liter TigerShark engine and have included those reviews below:
Flash Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler
Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade
The bottom line is FCA, often beat-up for not being enthusiastic about electric drive, appears to have stealthily positioned itself to become one of the country’s leaders in electrification. Its competition is not standing still, but it will be fun to see how much of an inroad FCA can make with its battery-augmented minivans, pickups and SUVs. We will be spending as much time as possible in these new offerings and will keep you up to date on the news and how these vehicles work in the real world.