Chrysler to Discontinue Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen Hybrids, Shutter Plant; Move Not Seen As Indicator of a Hybrid Collapse Amid Industry's Financial TurmoilBy Scott Doggett October 23, 2008
By Scott Doggett and John O'Dell
The Chrysler Aspen (right) and Dodge Durango (below) full-size hybrid sport utility vehicles have become the first green vehicle casualties in the wake of the automotive industry's declining fortunes.
Chrysler announced today that it will close the Delaware plant where the SUVs and their nonhybrid namesakes are made and discontinue the models.
The Auburn Hills, Michigan, automaker won't move their production anywhere else when the plant closes at year's end, Chrysler spokesman Scott Brown told Green Car Advisor, despite the fact the hybrids entered full-scale production on Aug. 22, barely two months ago.
"Even though we got significant orders for the hybrids, it doesn't make sense to keep the plant open for just them," he said.
The death of the two Chrysler hybrids isn't going to cause much mourning in environmental circles, said Jim Kliesch, senior engineer for the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
By using the hybrid system with the notoriously thirsty 5.7 liter "HEMI" V8 engine, Chrysler didn't produce significantly efficient hybrid SUVs, he said. The big engine helped make the Aspen and Durango 'utes very expensive as well.
(In fairness, the EPA just this month rated both hybrids at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, which makes them 40 percent more fuel efficient than their nonhybrid namesakes.)
"It stands to reason with everyone clamoring for fuel efficiency and the economy in such tough times that these would be hard to sell today anyway," Kliesch said.
That said, Kliesch doesn't believe that we're seeing the start of a trend of automakers killing off hybrids and other expensive-to-build, fuel-efficient advanced technology vehicles just to save money.
"This is the time the industry needs to step on it and get fuel-efficient models onto showroom floors," he said. "They need to do it to survive, and they know that."
Chrysler has received a total of 3,000 orders for the hybrid models, company spokesman Todd Goyer said. He declined to say whether the automaker would fill those orders.
"We can't disclose forward-looking production plans, whether we can meet them or not," he said. "There are strong indicators that there's a market for full-size vehicles, so we look forward to the Dodge Ram coming and obviously we'll have further hybrids down the road."
Goyer was referring to Chrysler's announcement that it will add a light-duty Dodge Ram HEMI Hybrid to its lineup in 2010 (assuming, of course, that the struggling automaker is still in business then).
The Durango and Aspen hybrids, which employ the same two-mode hybrid system found in General Motors' full-size SUVs, are Chrysler's first-production hybrid vehicles. They are sticker priced at $45,340 and $45,570, respectively.
The Newark (Delaware) Assembly Plant where they and the nonhybrid versions are produced and 1,000 workers are employed dropped from two shifts to one in July as the market for large SUVs tanked.
About 38,000 vehicles were produced at the plant from the start of this year through September, Goyer said, but he wouldn't say how many vehicles Chrysler had hoped to build there during that time period.
Both of the hybrid SUVs made their international debuts at the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show last November.
Today's announcement coincided with a report from Daimler AG, which owns a 19.9 percent share of privately-held Chrysler, that the U.S. automaker suffered a $772.5 million second-quarter loss due to slowing U.S. sales and a market shift to small cars.
Edmunds' business news blog Auto Observer suggests that Chrysler is quickly unraveling and no longer finds the PR benefits of its hybrid offerings -- or the heavy expenditure it has made in hybrid technology -- of any significance.
Although the first "green" (or at leas greenish) victims of the present economic and industry turmoil, the Chrysler and Dodge hybrids aren't the first hybrids to be killed off by a major automaker for economic reasons.
Honda Motor Co., which beat Toyota to the U.S. hybrid market by several months with the 1999 launch of the two-seat Insight, killed that car several years ago because of moribund sales and followed up that decision by spiking the V6-powered Honda Accord hybrid as well.
Like the Chrysler hybrids, the Accord "was not very fuel efficient for a hybrid, and didn't have the proper type of engine," Kliesch said. A V6 -- or, in Chrysler's case, a V8 -- is not what most hybrid buyers are looking for.