We spent the morning out in Chelsea, MI checking out the latest and greatest from the soon to no longer be 'merican side of the German-American hybrid at their annual "What's New?" event. It's an opportunity for all the auto journalists on this side of the country to get a chance to grab with grubby hands every bit of what's coming out in 2008. Some of what's new we're allowed to talk about, some of what's new we aren't so much allowed to talk about. But one of the surprise appearances at this year's event was a preview of two large SUV's that Chrysler's head of product development, Frank Klegon hopes will revitalize sales of large SUV's. It's the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen dual-mode hybrids — and yeah, they've both got a Hemi. We had a chance to take the Durango Hemi hybrid out for a spin on the track at the development center and then afterward we talked with Frank Klegon in
an exclusive sit-down an instance of extreme luck when he ambled over to sit with us during lunch. We asked Frank...
...a couple of things about the new dual-mode Hemi hybrid and learned they're expecting a 40% improvement in fuel efficiency in city driving and a 25% increase in fuel efficiency during highway driving. Klegon also explained the hybrid system, built in cooperation with General Motors and BMW, is exactly the same as the GM system powering the 'lectric side of the new Tahoe and Yukon hybrids — the only difference being each company tunes the system a little bit differently based upon engine preferences. And speaking of the engine — that's where Klegon claims they've got the biggest advantage over GM's system. The new Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango hybrids are powered by the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine with Multi-Displacement System (MDS) — allowing it to run on 4 cylinders or 8 cylinders depending on workload needs. We can personally attest the system runs smoothly — in a one lap test. How it fares on the road is something entirely different.
The hybrid system utilizes a true dual-mode drivetrain whereby the wheels of the twin SUV's can receive power from both the engine as well as from on-board batteries which receive a charge from braking and from the engine. Chrysler engineers tell us the system can run up to 25mph for an unspecified distance fully on batteries. We've no idea when the system's going to come to market in the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen — engineers were kinda cagey on the whole "when is it coming to market thing."
But what was really interesting to us was that all this discussion of the hybrid engine system — the common parts shared between Chrysler and GM plus the large amounts of team work going into bringing it about — brought us to wonder whatever happened to those rumors of Chrysler and GM sharing GM's GMT-900 platform for large SUV's and trucks? Klegon gave us a "no comment" on that one — but we'll be damned if the man didn't look first over at Rick Dennau, his PR watchdog, and then down at his plate as he said it. Whether that means he felt discomfort at being unable to share anything with us or it meant he was just looking for another bite of the kielbasa — we'll never know. But all we know is we wouldn't be surprised to be hearing something more about discussions sometime in the future.
UPDATE: Sources at General Motors tell us talks are still going on with the Chrysler Group on platform sharing, especially in regards to the GMT-900.