Auburn Hills, Michigan, is the seventh city to receive a fleet of four Ram 1500 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) for demonstration and testing use. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, Chrysler Group, who is headquartered in Auburn Hills, chose the city as an ideal proving ground for the hybrid pickup trucks because of its combination of suburban and rural driving environments.
"Cities have been carefully selected to help Chrysler Group LLC collect a wide range of data," said Abdullah Bazzi, senior manager of Chrysler's advanced hybrid vehicle project.
Bazzi says the constant charging and use of the pickups in fleets will provide helpful data on battery life and charging efficiency, two major factors for plug-in hybrids.
Although Chrysler has not released plans to market the PHEV Ram 1500 to the public, testing in this program is expected to provide engineers with real-world evaluations of how customers use the vehicles and data on such metrics as fuel economy, emissions and charging. The program will also show the impact of the vehicles on the electric grid, a major concern as more and more drivers begin using household electricity and charging stations to refresh the range of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
The program will distribute 140 PHEV Ram 1500 trucks for a three-year demonstration. Cities already using the vehicles represent diverse climate and traffic environments. Yuma, Arizona was chosen to demonstrate use in warm climates with extremely high temperatures, while Boston and Albany, New York provide cold climates and conditions to test the PHEV pickups. Other cities include Charlotte, Sacramento and San Francisco. Seven more cities are expected to receive a similar demonstration fleet.
Programs like this demonstration fleet allow automakers to engineer PHEVs to better meet drivers' demands. The PHEV Ram 1500 demonstration is partly funded by a grant from the Department of Energy, which provides funds "to develop vehicles that will be cost efficient for consumers, satisfy safety concerns of daily travel without recharging and help reduce dependence on foreign oil."
While the technology behind PHEV shows great potential, its viability for everyday use is unclear. Drivers want more fuel efficient vehicles, and plug-in hybrids could provide a solution. But many factors, from high cost to range and charging concerns, mean the PHEVs are not yet competing with conventionally-powered vehicles on an even playing field.
The demonstrations in Auburn Hills and other cities will help manufacturers like Chrysler improve their designs so that plug-in hybrids may soon be as convenient to use as their gas-powered equivalents while offering lower fuel costs and emissions.