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Chrysler and Alternative Fuels ("Green Technology")

Projects with their own pages

CNG-Gasoline bi-fuel pickups (2012).

alternative fuel engine turbine engine

Turbine engines: you can burn anything: wine, perfume, kerosene. But gas mileage at idle is poor. A project that was dropped reluctantly after decades of test cars and research.

TEVan motor

Electric minivans (including TEVan and EPIC): electric minivans were produced on a regular assembly line, because minivans provide enough space for lots of storage batteries. Some are still on the road.

Ram Plug-in Hybrid-Electric Vehicle: Dodge is making 140 Ram PHEVs and testing them with millions of real-world customer miles in extreme conditions between 2009 and 2013.

Other electric vehicles include the eV concepts, GEM cars, Dodge Circuit EV, and Jeep Patriot EV. A company named Jet Industries (based in Texas) purchased a number of Chrysler, Subaru, and Ford cars without engines, and retrofitted them for electric operation, using lead-acid batteries. The operation apparently extended to Israel.

1979 electric carChrysler also made an electric concept car in 1979, with General Electric; two “integrated test vehicles” were delivered to the Department of Energy. They used a high strength, low-alloy steel body with aluminum fenders, doors, and hood, and were powered by 18 lead-acid batteries powering a DC motor. The car was said to have a 75 mile range, capable of 145 miles at a steady 35 mph, with a maximum speed of over 55 mph. GE was the primary contractor in the $6 million program, developing the drive system and controls, while Chrysler provided the body, styling (surprisingly similar to the Daytona), and packaging.

Variable line pressure automatics change the automatic transmission fluid pressure as needed to increase efficiency without sacrificing smoothness or transmission life.

Automatically shifted manual transmission: manual transmissions are more efficient than automatics because they use a mechanical rather than a fluid interface; Chrysler's system is moderately expensive but smoother than a standard automatic, without the disadvantages of this kind of system (e.g. hill slippage).

Fuel cell vehicles: it seems that Chrysler's project, described here, has been jettisoned in favor of Mercedes research. See the Chrysler Natrium fuel-cell minivan concept.

Propane cars: factory engineered and built propane systems of the 1980s

CNG (Compressed Natural Gas): Chrysler sold natural-gas powered vans and minivans, factory conversions with multiple-port injection - starting in 1991. CNG Dodge Darts were seen being tested in 2012. Also see 2012 bi-fuel Hemi trucks.

cng dart

Hybrids: hybrid-electric Intrepid ESX and Patriot hybrid racer: the ESX was said to get 70 mpg despite being full-sized, but Evan Boberg's book casts doubt on that, and says that the Patriot never actually ran under its own power. The Liberty Group's hybrid program was apparently abandoned. Chrysler's actual hybrid is a Durango, with hybrid-electric capabilities developed with GM and BMW.

chrysler patriot turbine car

The MAGIC engine: 25% better gas mileage for $500 per vehicle was claimed by the Liberty Group, using a variety of small tricks. This claim may be dubious.

Cab forward - puts a lot of interior space into a small package, cutting weight. Essentially a combination of industry best practices including small overhangs, aerodynamic shapes, and small engine bays.

Variable displacement on the Hemi engine - dramatically cuts fuel use at stoplights.

Steam-Powered Plymouth (quite unlike steam heat)

Aerodynamics: efforts of the first company to use a wind tunnel to design its cars.

Biodiesel: a better solution than hybrid-electric, but potentially devastating to large energy companies (equally beneficial to small farmers).

Plastic and resin body parts: lighten the body but have some issues

flex-fuelFlex-fuel vehicles can run up to 85% ethanol, thanks to special hoses, internal components, and programming, albeit with lower gas mileage and power.

See how the EPA tests cars.

"Classic" innovations

Chrysler invented both electronic ignition and fuel-saving feedback systems using on-board computers. Electronic ignition eliminated points, which had to be cleaned and adjusted frequently; simply doing this eliminated quite a bit of pollution and increased gas mileage and power in reality for most cars on the road, since setting the points required skill that was often lacking. Electronic ignition also provided a hotter, more consistent spark, again helping efficiency.

Lanny Knutson wrote about Lean Burn in the Plymouth Bulletin (reprinted by permission):

A new electronic spark advance module called Lean Burn was introduced by Chrysler [in 1976] on all its 400 and 440 engines. Six sensors monitored the engine RPM, manifold vacuum, water temperature, ambient temperature, intake air temperature and throttle position, sending the data to a small computer unit mounted on the air filter housing. A pioneering version of what is now under the hood of nearly every contemporary car, Lean Burn was designed to avoid the driveability problems usually arising from manually leaned carburetors. Although it gained approximately one mile per gallon, the primary purpose of the system was controlling emissions inside the engine. For a time, it permitted Chrysler to avoid use of expensive power-robbing catalytic converters.

Lean Burn was slowly extended to all Chrysler engines. Unfortunately, the Huntsville engineers who developed the system (and, later, the first trip computer, which calculated gas mileage and distance-to-empty) neglected to test the system thoroughly, and it had some weak points in durability. Lean Burn was eventually discredited - the idea was sound, but as implemented it tended to fail with time, and many cars had the Lean Burn system removed. It would take time for more sophisticated sensors and controls to be developed, and even these would not solve reliability problems until fuel injection was adopted. The fuel injector simplified the system by simplifying the electronic-to-mechanical interface.

Exciting new projects

Automatic starting and stopping? This 2004-application patent covers a set up controls to automatically stop an engine when it's warm and not needed, and then to start it back up again on demand. This is already done for manual-transmission Opels to save fuel; the Chrysler patent appears to cover automatic transmissions. Shutting the engine while coasting would help in conserving energy, but some patent language indicates that the goal is to shut a hybrid-electric's engine at traffic lights and such.

Cutting the fuel while decelerating (see prior paragraph) started with some 2009 model-year vehicles and was expanded dramatically in 2010. Savings were not estimated by Chrysler, and the engine had to be going at a fairly high speed for the system to work reliably.

Richard Radu, Robert Nakee, William Eichbrecht, Leon Cribbins, Joseph Kopera, and George Mitchell got together for an oxygen sensor filter which, by recording an average oxygen sensor value and then comparing individual readings to that value, can detect if an oxygen sensor is going off course. It collects the number of greater than average and lower than average readings and by looking at a large number of these, can see whether the oxygen sensor is starting to read lower or higher than it used to. Given the importance of the oxygen sensor and the problems of measuring its output correctly (currently, by comparing it with a second oxygen sensor which may be inaccurate itself!), this is a promising technology that could save gas, increase power, and reduce emissions.

James R. Klotz's patent 6,584,943 (issued in 2003), for variable lift intake valves, could help with increasing economy, emissions, and performance. Patent application 568630 (2000) from Douglas Stander, Sam Liu, Min Sway-Tin, and William Robinson covers a new way to set up air-fuel ratios, rather than using painfully derived lookup charts - basing them on a neural network, using various sensor readings and internal logic to come up with the ideal fuel to air mixture.

Main technology page | Engines page | Chrysler and the environment, 1993 | Chrysler tech firsts

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