TORONTO — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV plans to introduce hybrid electric-gas versions for most of its Jeep SUVs, a move to improve the fuel efficiency of its line-up as many rivals rush to develop fully electric vehicles.
Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said Friday in a speech that hybrids will be a standard option for the bulk of its Jeep line-up, which now features eight different models.
This smallest of Detroit’s Big Three auto manufacturers has taken a cautious approach to investing in electrification and other technologies associated with next-generation vehicles. Mr. Marchionne reiterated concerns in the speech about the viability of fully electric cars, which he called a “double-edged sword.”
But Mr. Marchionne’s announcement was significant, marking the first time the company has disclosed plans to develop a broad portfolio of hybrids.
“Most of the Jeeps going forward are all going to become hybrids,” he told reporters after the speech. “That work is beginning now and will become visible in the next two to three years.”
FCA began selling a hybrid version of its Pacifica minivan earlier this year, and has pledged to offer so-called “mild hybrid” options for its Jeep Wrangler SUV and Ram pick-up truck by the end of the decade. Mild hybrids typically do not rely on electric motors to rotate a vehicle’s wheels, but instead provide power for other functions.
FCA has abandoned the mainstay sedan market and increasingly focused on sales of SUVs, pick-ups and niche muscle cars. Those vehicles feature horsepower at the expense of fuel efficiency.
The CEO has been reluctant to commit to offer more fully electric vehicles beyond the Fiat 500e, which it sells mostly to help meet government-mandated fleet fuel-economy standards for its entire line-up.
Mr. Marchionne said Friday his company loses “about $20,000″ on every Fiat 500e it sells and that auto makers stand to be sidelined by that technology as most batteries and electric motors are developed by “external suppliers with highly-specialized know-how.” He also said the environmental benefits from the proliferation of EVs may be overstated, noting many power grids rely on fossils fuels to generate electricity.
FCA has also taken a more passive approach to self-driving technology than some of its peers, outsourcing development of autonomous driving systems to Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s driverless-car unit. But Mr. Marchionne said he expects these technologies to reshape the auto industry and that will be led by Silicon Valley giants, not traditional auto makers like FCA.
“We believe that full automation in the mass market is less than a decade away from reality,” he said in prepared remarks to a Canadian group raising money for earthquake relief efforts in Italy. “We cannot delude ourselves by believing we can replace or displace the technology giants.”
The FCA chief said new entrants in the industry threaten the business models of existing auto makers and that only a few performance-oriented brands will be unaffected by that competitive pressure.
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