Chrysler Group announced Wednesday that it is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adapt a hydraulic hybrid system for possible use in an upcoming version of its popular minivan.
The announcement came at a joint appearance by Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Marchionne told reporters that a hydraulic hybrid was especially well suited for large vehicles in city driving. It is also much cheaper than a conventional electric hybrid, he noted.
“Electric cars aren’t the whole answer,” Marchionne said. “The cost of this technology is much less than an electric hybrid… This is real, and it does work. We just need to find out how it performs on the road.”
The partners will start with a Chrysler Town & Country minivan equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. Under the minivan’s floor, they will install a tank filled with hydraulic fluid.
Every time the vehicle brakes, the pump will use that energy to pressurize the fluid in the tank up to 5,000 pounds per square inch. The pressurized fluid subsequently will be released to operate a hydraulic motor, which will provide power to the front or rear axle.
According to Chrysler, the system could improve fuel economy as much as 30 to 35 percent, and up to 60 percent in city driving. Chrysler will complete its tests in 2012.
If the hydraulic hybrid proves to be practical, it could be used in minivans, SUVs or pickups. Chrysler would license the technology from the EPA, which developed it.
The project comes as automakers scramble to meet strict new fuel economy standards expected to take effect after 2016. Chrysler, which is operating under the management control of Fiat SpA, is the only major automaker in the U.S. market without a hybrid offering.
The EPA has worked with supplier Eaton Corp. to develop a hydraulic hybrid system now being tested in heavy work trucks as a way to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. The government agency is spending $2 million to fund its test project with Chrysler.
Conventional hybrids like the market-leading Prius from Toyota Motor Corp. use batteries to store power and reduce the work done by the combustion engine.
Reuters contributed to this report