Daimler Expands Plug-in Hybrid Program

By: Anthony Fontanelle

DaimlerChrysler expands its plug-in hybrid program to cover the all-new Dodge Sprinter. The vehicle was earlier shown before Bush and other top auto executives at the White House.

The 2007 Dodge Sprinter Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is a display of commitment to the manufacture of environment-friendly vehicles. The vehicle uses the hybrid powertrain architecture as well as advanced batteries. The new Sprinter can run up to 20 miles on electric-only power. It is also the first PHEV combined with diesel for maximum fuel efficiency.

Four of the vehicles, built on the previous-generation Dodge Sprinter, already are in operation with customers. So far, Daimler is the only automaker currently evaluating a variety of plug-in hybrid powertrain composed of diesel and gas configurations in real-world, customer-operation service in the United States. According to the automaker, up to 20 Dodge Sprinter vehicles will be placed in the US between now and the first quarter of next year as part of a test-fleet program.

The automaker believes that battery development is one of the keys to the success of hybrid and fuel-cell transportation. Hence, the Sprinter is given the lithium-ion batteries that hold the greatest promise for technology. A number of the Dodge Sprinter PHEVs will be featuring lithium-ion batteries. They are about half the weight of the usual batteries and they have much greater storage capacities compared with nickel-metal hydride batteries. The Sprinter PHEVs will yield technical information through real-world driving conditions about lifetime, performance and cost of batteries.

"For plug-in hybrid technology to move forward, a dramatic leap in battery technology is necessary," said Mark Chernoby, the Vice President at Advance Vehicle Engineering for 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."

0The plug-in technology of the automaker lends itself to commercial auto applications where the vehicle returns to base after each shift to be plugged into the power grid. Hence, in short stop-and-go routes, the vehicle will use very little fuel.

The Dodge Sprinter PHEV comes with a switch on the dashboard to give the driver the chance 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 or gasoline. The diesel version will yield the highest fuel economy benefit and is the first fleet test of a diesel plug-in hybrid system.

The plug-in hybrid technology is part of Daimler's advanced propulsion technology umbrella. The cutting-edge technology includes outstandingly efficient gasoline engines, advanced diesel technology, ethanol flex-fuel and zero-emission fuel cell vehicles which are mated to high-end and other auto parts.

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