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Hunting for Chrysler's unsold hybrid SUVs

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  August 10, 2009 03:45 PM

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In December, I was test driving one of the rarest new cars in America, something nearly as difficult to buy as a Tesla Roadster and produced in such limited numbers like the Mercedes SLR McLaren Roadster parked in Brookline yesterday.

I was in a grey Dodge Durango Hybrid.

After years of co-engineering a heavy-duty hybrid powertrain with General Motors, Daimler, and BMW, months after debuting its 2009 Durango and Aspen Hybrids, and a few weeks before my drive, Chrysler said it would shut down its one and only hybrid assembly plant in Newark, Delaware by December's end.

All told, Chrysler only made 800 of the full-size SUV hybrids. What's really strange, however, is that the Chrysler and Dodge websites continue to advertise the hybrids as if they were still in production. Dodge has the hybrid Durango listed next to its three other trim levels, and while Chrysler makes you dig to find the "HEV Limited 4x4" trim, you're still allowed to build and "order" one from a local dealer. Good luck doing that.

A call to Chrysler was met with similar confusion. According to spokeswoman Lisa Barrow, the company still has a few unsold hybrid SUVs throughout the country, and by few, we're talking only six in the entire Northeast. Besides some of the Chrysler corporate sales staff and the unnamed dealers struggling to sell a nearly three-ton SUV (let alone survive), no one's sure where these cars are.

It would seem Chrysler drew the short straw among its hybrid partners. General Motors has sold 5,865 Escalade, Yukon, Tahoe, and Vue two-mode hybrid SUVs this year through July, according to IHS Global Insight of Lexington. Those numbers are low compared to the Ford Escape Hybrid's 9,511 sales and Toyota's 74,924 Priuses in the same period, but it's more than seven times higher than Chrysler's grand total. Mercedes is also debuting its ML450 hybrid later this year (no word yet from BMW). And in June, GM demanded payback for Chrysler's share in development costs, to the tune of over a half-million dollars.

That said, Dodge is planning to reuse the technology for its 2010 Ram pickup (Chevy and GMC have introduced their Silverado and Sierra Hybrids, but they've sold only 650 through July this year). Thankfully, the technology is up-to-speed.

We reviewed the Escalade Hybrid in last Sunday's Globe, and came away impressed by its smooth, quiet operation, except for some clunky hesitation when mashing the gas. The Durango Hybrid I drove in December performed similarly and could attain nearly 30 miles per hour under electric power. Fuel economy isn't great, but for vehicles of this size, the mileage is at least tolerable rather than gut-wrenching.

If anyone has spotted or purchased one of these Chrysler hybrids recently, we'd love to know. So would Chrysler.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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7 comments so far...
  1. Dont knock it till you drove it. The Chrysler Aspen is one of the best SUVs on the market today. I think P Diddy has one. Rumor has it 50 cent has on on order.

    Posted by Bill Q. Sherman August 10, 09 09:36 PM
  1. The Chrysler Aspen is an odd creation. It was introduced during some of the highest gas prices a few years ago.

    It does look nicer than the Durango and I do like Chrysler's classy character but its still confusing why it was created in the first place.

    Compared to basic models, how does the hybrids compare fuel wise?

    Posted by Andy August 11, 09 09:18 AM
  1. P Diddy and 50 Cent have em? Enough said! Run like hell.

    Posted by Fred Quimby August 11, 09 11:40 AM
  1. a quality suv made by good qualified american workers ended too soon due to panic that killed jobs.

    Posted by csidelaware August 11, 09 08:28 PM
  1. I got my Hybrid Aspen on Saturday. It is my first hybrid and the fourth Chrysler product I have purchased in the last five years. It is really very nice to drive, once you get use to how the throttle works. This morning, I tasked out my throttle foot to see how far I could go with just the volts. I got from work all the way to the coffee shop which is about a mile without the engine starting. It was stop and go, and I got it up to about 20 mph.

    I am planning a 500 mile trip this weekend to go camping. I am going to do a fuel economy test to see the real world MPG.

    Posted by Rocky Korchinski August 11, 09 10:29 PM
  1. The Dodge Durango and its cousins are jokes. They drive terribly and have horrible gas mileage. They're also built cheaply and have bad reliability. What's to love? Well, I guess they can tow a lot but seriously how many people actually tow more than what a crossover can tow (3,500+ lbs.)?

    Posted by Mar Ritter August 18, 09 08:43 AM
  1. I bought a Aspen Hybrid in May. After the Federal tax credit for hybrids, the difference in price was a mere $1,500 vs. a similarly equipped ICE-only version. I think it is a nice vehicle. I owned a 5.9L Dodge Durango previously and I really appreciate the 70% increase in fuel efficiency (11.6 mpg vs. 20 mpg real world) and it's more powerful to boot. It's loaded with creature comforts and contrary to what others have said, I find the ride to be quite nice. It corners better than the Tahoe and I much prefer Chrysler's control layout vs. many other manufacturer's. My old Durango had a recall that was handled but no problem was ever experienced before or after it was serviced for it. Time will tell with the Aspen.

    And for Mar Ritter: regarding towing, not knowing if you've ever had the need, but if not then I can tell you that when doing so you would appreciate using a vehicle that is capable of towing more than you're actually towing. Marketing a 9,000 pound towing capacity (6,000 in case of the Chrysler hybrids) is fine, but I'd be pretty nervous actually towing that much. But when I'm towing a ton and a half or two on my Durango or Aspen, I'm very comfortable. I don't think I'd feel the same in a crossover. In my opinion, I doubt the towing hitch on most crossovers are ever used for much more than mounting a bike or luggage rack. I've certainly never seen one tow anything like a boat.

    Posted by Phil U. August 19, 09 11:46 PM

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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