Sergio Marchionne, CEO of the Chrysler Group (and Fiat), may have announced that the Chrysler 300 would get an available hybrid powertrain recently, but he didn’t exactly seem happy about it. The money quote from his interview about the situation in Automotive News was succinct, and perhaps a bit peevish: "I have no other way of getting to 2025 [CAFE] numbers than by going to hybrids.”
And he’s no doubt right, as Chrysler is mired in last place for fleet fuel efficiency among the mainstream automakers, according to Edmunds’ number for the 2010 model year. The company’s 19.2 mpg in terms of “adjusted composite values” trailed the next worst mark, that of Ford(!), by 1.3 mpg and was 6.7 mpg behind the pace of the leader here, Hyundai. That’s just what happens when you sell a lot of big trucks, a point reinforced by the fact that GM was right there with Ford, with the General putting up a mark of 20.8 mpg. Further, at the risk of mixing apples and oranges, I’ll mention that the Detroit 3 have by far the biggest percentage of non-cars in their sales mix among the mainstreamers, and their places on the Edmunds fuel-efficiency list follow the exact reverse order as their MotorIntelligence.com rankings for the YTD percentage of non-cars in their sales mix.
That is, through September, 59.8 percent of the General’s deliveries were non-cars; 64.4 percent of Ford’s sales were from those vehicles; and Chrysler’s surging sales are being driven by it relying on “trucks” for 74.4 percent of its sales so far this year. At the same time, as mentioned above, Chrysler had the worst fleet fuel efficiency, followed by Ford and then GM.
Frankly, I’m not sure how much a hybrid 300 will be able to move ye olde needle in terms of Chrysler fuel efficiency unless the company changes its sales mix, but then again, it may not have to do as much work as Sergio thought.
The Long Road Forward
What has Marchionne so worked up is that with each passing day, the industry gets a tick closer to having to meet the EPA’s 2025 mileage standards requiring fleet averages of 54.5 mpg. Even with all the loopholes and loose math involved, that would seem to require a significant amount of work, especially for a company that currently relies on some of the industry’s least fuel-efficient segments for about three-quarters of its sales. Yet it’s clear that the strategy most likely to help achieve the 2025 fuel-economy guidelines—stop selling big trucks and crossovers that get poor mileage—isn’t even on the table.
Well, it’s wedged its way onto the kiddie table at Hyundai, which doesn’t sell any body-on-frame vehicles at all and, even in a market in which customers are flocking back to the truck side of the business, has relied on crossovers for just 20.2 percent of it 2011 YTD sales mix. And I suppose you could say Chrysler’s decision to put the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango on unibody platforms is a nod in the right direction—despite the two only being able to reach 15 mpg combined in their four-wheel-drive, V8 configurations, and 19 mpg in their least-thirsty RWD/V6 setups.
Dropping some context into the discussion, consider this interesting comparison: Per the EPA’s FuelEconomy.gov website, the biggest-engined 2002 Grand Cherokee was rocking a 4.7-liter V8 and, with all four wheels hooked to the engine, posted a fuel-efficiency line of 12 mpg city/17 mpg highway/14 mpg combined. A full decade later, kitting out a Grand Cherokee in the same manner gets you an extra liter of V8 displacement, and a hefty dose of extra power, but the bottom line is that it nets a minor 1 mpg bump in both combined and city fuel economy, albeit with a 15 percent increase in highway performance, which is up to 20 mpg.
Obviously, it’s going to take quite a few 300 hybrids to make up for that kind of “fuel efficiency.” I don’t mean to pick on just Chrysler, either. The EcoBoosted Ford F-150, for all its green buzz, is EPA rated at 16/22/18. That’s pretty good for a full-size pickup, especially one that makes 365 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, but selling more than half a million of them each year isn’t going to help Ford get much/any closer to the 2025 CAFE standards.
The Coming Detour
Getting back on track here, when you see these kinds of factoids, you also can see why Marchionne might be feeling a bit antsy about Chrysler’s future. Luckily for him, the U.S House of Representatives are already on the case. As reported recently in the Detroit News, a group of more than 60 Republican members of Congress are putting a concerted effort into preventing the 2025 CAFE standards from going into effect. Rather than get into their “reasoning,” however, I’ll just point out that three Democrats already have joined the pachyderm people, the National Automobile Dealers Association are backing these efforts as well, and, overall, the president’s commitment to progressive ideas seems to be slipping faster than his approval ratings.
Throw in U.S. customers’ equally weak commitment to pushing the industry into a more fuel-efficient path, and the odds of those 2025 CAFE standards becoming reality are shrinking as quickly as the sales of hybrid vehicles in this country. Which, if you’re curious, were down 20.6 percent in September.