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U.S., Chrysler work on hybrid engines for minivans

 Chrysler and the Environmental Protection Agency are trying to adapt an engine technology invented by the EPA to improve gas mileage in minivans.

The company and the government agency said on Wednesday they’re working to fit the EPA’s hydraulic hybrid system into Chrysler minivans. If it works, the system could boost minivan mileage 35 per cent to around 27 miles per gallon (11.5 kilometers per litre). Currently the top Chrysler minivan gets 20 mpg (8.5 kpl) in combined city and highway driving.

The agreement was announced as Chrysler and other auto companies seek new technologies to help to meet stricter government fuel economy regulations that call for a fleet average of 35.5 miles per gallon (15 kpl) by 2016, nearly 10 miles per gallon (4.2 kpl) more than now. The standards could go as high as 47 mpg (20 kpl) to 62 mpg (26.3 kpl) by 2025.

The system, patented by scientists at the EPA’s laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is now used in more than a dozen trash and package delivery trucks in Florida and Michigan. About 50 more trucks are on order from manufacturers that have licensed the system. It uses energy from the truck’s conventional engines and brakes to pump fluid into a tank under high pressure. The fluid is released and runs hydraulic motors that power the truck, and the conventional engine is turned on only when needed to pressurize the tank.

“The technology has been very successful for stop-and-go type driving in large trucks,” said David Haugen, manager of technology development at the EPA lab.

Chrysler, which is 10 per cent owned by the U.S. government because of a $12.5 billion bailout in 2009, had the lowest fleet gas mileage of any major automaker in 2009 at 19.2 mpg.

The collaboration won’t create any new jobs, at least not immediately. But the EPA will spend $2 million during the next 18 months to develop the technology and Chrysler will provide engineering from within its current ranks.

Once Chrysler and the EPA figure out whether the technology can work in a minivan, they’ll discuss licensing the system for commercial use, said Gina McCarthy, assistant EPA administrator. Other companies also may be eligible to license the technology, McCarthy said.

The system is rather large and would have to be slimmed to work in a minivan, but the van has space to hold the system, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said.


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