Going Electric, Even if Gas Is Cheap
While U.S. consumers were taking advantage of low gas prices to buy trucks and sport utility vehicles in large numbers, some automakers delayed investing in slower-selling electrified vehicles.
But with increases in federal fuel-economy standards looming in 2017, car companies are hustling to bring out hybrid and electric models to help them meet the new rules — even though electrified vehicles make up only 2 percent of overall sales.
The federal government has mandated corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025. But companies need to meet an interim standard of about 37 mpg by next year.
Now, despite declining gas prices, automakers showed off a raft of electric and hybrid models at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles introduced a plug-in hybrid-electric version of its new minivan model, the Pacifica, making it the first hybrid vehicle in the Italian-American automaker's lineup.
The Pacifica joined several other new electrified models introduced by other automakers at the auto show, including models from Ford Motor Co. and General Motors.
Fiat Chrysler has been an industry laggard in the push for electrified cars, relying heavily in recent years on sales of Ram pickups and Jeep sport utility vehicles to drive its growth in the U.S. market.
The results, at least financially, have been stellar. Profits have surged and market share has expanded at the expense of Fiat Chrysler's rivals.
But Fiat Chrysler's chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, acknowledged that his company needed more high-mileage models, and the hybrid minivan was a good starting point.
"The 2025 numbers are very high numbers," Marchionne said at a news conference. "You look around the show at all the hybrids and the electrification as being a solution to the rules in 2025."
Marchionne said the company would improve its average by continuing to improve the mileage of its conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, as well as by adding hybrids.