Hybrid vans to hit US roads

New plug-in hybrid vans could deliver zero-emission driving and improved fuel efficiency following "real world" trials about to start in the US.

A fleet of up to 20 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) will be tested between now and the first quarter of 2008.

Four of the vehicles, built on the previous-generation Dodge Sprinter, are already in operation with customers. DaimlerChrysler claims it is the only auto manufacturer currently evaluating a variety of plug-in hybrid powertrain (diesel and gas) configurations in real-world, customer-operation service within the United States.

The new plug-in electric van can drive up to 20 miles running on electric power only. It accomplishes this with a switch on the dashboard giving the operator the ability to manually switch between modes as needed, or automatically by the vehicle control system.

Two different combustion engines are being offered in the Dodge Sprinter PHEV - diesel and gasoline. The diesel version will yield the highest fuel economy benefit and is the first fleet test of a diesel plug-in hybrid system.

In pure electric mode, there are zero emissions and even in hybrid mode, the diesel engine is very efficient and fuel economy improvement can be up to 50 per cent. The plug-in technology lends itself to commercial applications where the vehicle returns to base after each shift to be plugged into the power grid. In short stop-and-go routes, the vehicle will use very little fuel.

"For plug-in hybrid technology to move forward, a dramatic leap in battery technology is necessary," said Mark Chernoby, vice president of Advanced Vehicle Engineering at the Chrysler Group.

"The energy storage systems in the Dodge Sprinter PHEV concept fleet will provide valuable field experience on the possibilities with lithium-ion battery technology," he said.

Throughout the testing in 'real-world driving conditions,' factors such as lifetime, performance and cost of batteries will be closely monitored.

The vans will also be tested in small fleets in Europe, where smaller electric vehicles such as the G-Wiz have rapidly gained popularity, particularly in larger cities.

Dana Gornitzki


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