After a slow start, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is plugging into battery power in a big way, the Euro-American automaker confirming plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid version of the Jeep Renegade in early 2020.
That follows the launch of a so-called “mild” hybrid system on the all-new Jeep Wrangler launched last year. The system, known as eTorque, is also being used on the completely overhauled 2019 Ram 1500 pickup just now rolling into U.S. showrooms.
The Jeep Renegade PHEV will mark a major push into battery power for FCA, the company recently announcing that its various brands will introduce a dozen more advanced electrified models by 2022, ranging from conventional “full” hybrids to plug-ins to all-electric offerings. They will cover a wide spectrum of models and price segments, including the all-new plug-in supercar being developed by the Alfa Romeo brand.
With only a few exceptions, notably the all-electric Fiat 500e, FCA had been one of the slowest among major automakers to adopt battery-electric technology. Former CEO Sergio Marchionne went so far as to urge customers not to buy the 500e after its introduction, noting that the company lost about $10,000 on every one it sold.
(FCA’s aggressive product plan for next 5 years, includes plug-in hybrids. Click Here for the story.)
But at a June strategy meeting in Milan, barely a month before his death from a stroke, Marchionne reversed course. He announced that electrification would play a key part of FCA’s new five-year strategy. The decision was clearly influenced by tightening emissions and mileage regulations in key markets like the U.S., Europe and China, but it also reflected the fact that new versions of battery propulsion systems can offer other advantages to consumers.
The eTorque system in the Ram pickup, for example, delivers an immediate burst of torque at launch, improving the perception of performance. The system also allows the use of an electrically assisted suspension system that can smooth out its ride.
Performance, in fact, is one of the big pluses that battery power is expected to bring to the FCA portfolio. That will be particularly true, the company has promised, when it introduced the next generation Alfa Romeo 8C, which will use a plug-in hybrid driveline to boost power to more than 700 hp. Both Alfa and sibling Italian brand Maserati will offer electrified versions of virtually all future models, including plug-ins and all-electric drivetrains.
That will help meet mileage regulations in the U.S. and, in particular, China, where new standards strongly encourage consumers to buy zero-emissions vehicles. Among other things, such models don’t face monthly sales restrictions in key cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.
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At the strategy session in Milan last June, Marchionne announced FCA would invest 9 billion euros, or about $10.3 billion, in its electrification strategy.
Much of the work will focus on the automaker’s European operations. The Jeep Renegade PHEV, for example, will be assembled at a plant in southern Italy. Alfa Romeo and Maserati vehicles are also assembled in that country.
The carmaker did not release specific details about the Renegade PHEV, notably the size of its battery pack and the range it would offer in all-electric mode. The vehicle is expected to adopt what has been called a “through-the-road all-wheel-drive system,” however. The conventional, internal combustion engine is expected to deliver power to one axle, likely up front, with one or more electric motors powering the other axle.
FCA’s plan to phase in battery powertrain technology will come at the same time the automaker will phase out its diesel engines, Marchionne said in June.
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The key question is whether his hand-picked successor, Michael Manley, will maintain course on the powertrain strategy. Until being moved into the CEO spot after Marchionne’s unexpected death, Manley had run both the Jeep and Ram brands, so the Wrangler and Ram 1500 eTorque models and the Renegade PHEV were all developed under his watch.