PHEV Ram Town Country

Chrysler hasn't exactly been in a leadership role when it comes to, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Disbanding the ENVI group in 2009 sure didn't help. Plug-in vehicle development continued, though, but the company's PHEV's are now facing another obstacle: overheating. Fortunately, this hasn't meant battery fires, but the overheated battery systems mean that Chrysler is temporarily pulling 109 trucks and 23 minivans out of a fleet testing program.

Three of the Ram 1500 pickups in a fleet of 109 equipped with plug-in hybrid powertrains were damaged when their prototype lithium-ion batteries overheated. No fire or injuries occurred, and the incidents took place when the trucks were unoccupied, Chrysler said. It was not known how long the test vehicles – deployed to 16 municipalities and utility companies in 20 states – would be sidelined

The prototype batteries were supplied by Electrovaya, based in Mississauga, Ontario, near Toronto. During the sidelining of the test models, Chrysler engineers will be working on a "superior battery," said Michael Duhaime, Chrysler's global director of electrified powertrain propulsion systems. In the next phase of the testing, a different battery chemistry will be used, which Mayne said is normal in the product development process.

Testing new technologies such as plug-in hybrids with fleets is helping automakers capture real-world data on performance and reliability. Toyota found this out before introducing the 2012 Prius Plug-in Hybrid through an extensive test-fleet program involving 125 early prototypes in the U.S. Input from participants assisted finalized engineering and improvement in features for the production model. No major problems like this overheating issue were revealed.

The fleet of plug-in hybrid Ram 1500 pickup trucks and Chrysler Town & Country minivans have accumulated 1.3 million miles during road testing, Chrysler said. The tests are being funded jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy ($58 million) and Chrysler ($65.2 million). The minivans have gotten an average of 55 miles per gallon of gasoline in testing and the Ram 1500 pickups have gotten 37.4 mpg.