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A Ram PHEV and Town & Country PHEV being charged. (Chrysler)
A Ram PHEV and Town & Country PHEV being charged. (Chrysler)

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Chrysler plug-in testing zapped by overheating batteries Add to ...

Chrysler has pulled the plug on its current plug-in hybrid vehicle test fleet, which used batteries by Mississauga, Ont.-based Electrovaya, after it found three of its 109 experimental Dodge Rams had been damaged by overheated batteries.

The entire current plug-in hybrid fleet will be returned from service in 20 fleets across the United States, which also consisted of 23 plug-in hybrid minivans, the firm said in a release this week.

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The company will upgrade the batteries for future prototypes, said Chrysler Canada spokesperson Daniel Labre. Chrysler is not discussing future suppliers, said Labre, but Raj Dasgupta, director of research at Electrovaya, said the firm is still working with Chrysler on electric drive in general, just not on those two particular vehicles at the moment.

There were no injuries and the incidents occurred when the vehicles were charging and unoccupied, both companies confirmed.

Dasgupta said the issue occurred on vehicles pushing the envelope with reverse charging, which would allow the trucks to provide power to the grid or to link up with other trucks as a mobile mini-grid. They are the first factory-built vehicles to feature this technology, said Chrysler.

Both projects are jointly funded by Chrysler Group and the U.S. Department of Energy. Chrysler has committed $65.2-million to the project, and the DOE $58-million, with about three quarters of that total going to the Ram PHEV project, trade journal Automotive News reported recently.

No similar overheating issues have occurred with 23 plug-in hybrid minivans deployed as part of a similar project, but they are also being withdrawn from service for a battery upgrade. Dasgupta says the company is always working on new and upgraded battery formulations, but the Canadian firm doesn’t yet know if it will be involved in supplying or developing these newer batteries for Chrysler.

“Right now we’re the only North American-based advanced lithium-ion manufacturer that’s still in the game,” said Gupta, referring to the various bankruptcies and takeovers in the automotive EV battery field by Asian firms. “We’re not exactly having the easiest time either, but we’re still hanging in there.”

The plug-in hybrid V-8 pickup truck had achieved a high of 37.4 mpg (6.3 litres/100 km), while the Chrysler Town & Country PHEVs reached 55 mpg, or 4.3 litres/100 km. Overall fuel consumption rates for the gas-only versions of both vehicles were generally more than double those rates, sometimes significantly more.

Tesla plans free solar quick-charging stations

Electric vehicle pioneer Tesla Motors says it plans to launch a Supercharger network of charge stations across the United States and Canada that will use large solar panels to provide enough energy to quick-charge Tesla vehicles for long-distance trips. And the cost to charge up there? Free, according to company CEO Elon Musk. Yes, free to start, and forever after, said the noted EV and space pioneer.

“For Model S customers with 85 kW and 60 kW packs, you’ll be able to travel for free, forever, by pure sunlight – I think it’s pretty hard to beat that.”

This addresses the three main issues that many critics cite against electric vehicle ownership, Musk noted: high costs, electricity powerplant emissions (especially with many coal-fired plants in the U.S. and in provinces like Alberta) and the ability to travel long distances.

At an announcement earlier this week at Tesla Motors’ Design Studio, Musk detailed how six of these stations are already up and running in California, allowing drama-free Tesla motoring between Los Angeles, San Francisco and out to Las Vegas, among other cities now accessible by Model S vehicles with the bigger batteries and on-board supercharger capabilities. These capabilities come standard on Model S sedans with the largest (and priciest) 85 kW batteries, and optional on models with the mid-level 60 kW battery pack.

That means no fast charging for other EVs or plug-in models from other auto makers, for base Model S owners, or for Tesla Roadster owners, which were not designed with supercharging in mind. The company has not discussed adding non-denominational chargers to the sites, a Tesla spokesperson said after the event.

By the end of 2013, Tesla plans to have them all around California, its home state and the breeding ground for both plug-in vehicles and many other technology trends.

Within two years, Tesla plans to offer Supercharging stations throughout the southern U.S., and into the corridor between central Ontario and western Quebec, as well as in the vicinity of Vancouver. Depending on where they’re placed, this could provide an electric bridge to allow supercharging Model S owners to drive between Toronto to Montreal.

Long-term, which Musk specified to be in the four- or five-year time frame, the firm plans to have every state equipped with Superchargers. According to a map shown at the network’s introduction, and broadcast online, this network would also cover the southern portion of most Canadian provinces. Similar Supercharging stations will start appearing in Europe and Asia in the second half of 2013, the company said.

It’s an ambitious plan even on one continent, never mind three, especially for such a relatively small company. But the plucky entrepreneur has faced down global long shots before, even alluding to the success of his SpaceX company in becoming the first private company to send and return a rocket from space, against seemingly astronomical odds.

“I think this day will actually go down as being quite historic, perhaps on par with SpaceX successfully docking a ship with the space station.”

Chevy Malibu Turbo on its way

General Motors has announced a turbocharged mid-size Chevrolet Malibu is coming, using a detuned version of the highly regarded Buick Regal GS engine, but without offering the manual transmission that really raised eyebrows and enthusiast admiration on that car.

This 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine will offer 259 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque in the 2013 Malibu, and becomes available this fall. A six-speed automatic transmission will come standard with the Malibu Turbo, which will better take on the likes of similarly powerful mid-size sedans from Kia, Hyundai, Ford and Honda.

The pricier and more luxurious Regal GS offers this engine with 270 hp and torque uprated to 295 lb-ft. The Malibu’s Turbo engine comes standard in the $32,150 Malibu LTZ, and can be paired to lower-trim-level Malibus for $1,620.

Fuel consumption for the speedier Turbo comes in at 10.1 litres/100 km city and 6.6 highway on optimistic Canadian scales, and with an overall average closer to 9.8 litres/100 km on the U.S. EPA scale. That compares to 8.1 overall for the Malibu eAssist, and 9.0 for the base 2.5-litre four.

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