Baking hybrids in the heat

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A new – and HOT! – phase in a long-term hybrid vehicle test project partnership between Chrysler Group LLC and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is getting underway out in the dusty, sun-baked desert of Arizona this week; a phase that will subject three plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) to two years of heavy operation under of the auspices of the City of Yuma, AZ.

The three Chrysler Town & Country PHEV minivans being used in this part of the automaker’s test project with DOE will evaluate city drive cycles, thermal and charging performance, fuel economy and real-world performance of hybrid technology in the punishing desert heat – baking these hybrid minivans in temperatures that often exceed 104 degrees during June, July and August, noted Abdullah Bazzi, senior manager of the Chrysler's advanced hybrid vehicle project.

[General Motors put its Chevy Volt hybrid out on the hardpan in Yuma as well to conduct similar “hot weather” tests a year or so ago. It seems to be a popular place for automakers seeking to measure the “fire and brimstone” effect on their products!]

"The City of Yuma is unique due to the extreme high ambient temperature," he added. “Thus the drive cycle and the way the vehicles will be tested will provide Chrysler engineering a valuable opportunity.”

Chrysler is deploying a grand total of 25 PHEV minivans subjected to a range of driving cycles as part of this joint hybrid test project with DOE, along with a fleet of plug-in hybrid Ram pickups as part of a different DOE test effort.

Bazzi noted that each Chrysler PHEV minivan comes equipped with an E85-compatible 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine mated to a front-wheel-drive, two-mode hybrid transmission linked to

a liquid-cooled 12.1 kilowatt per hour (KwHr) lithium-ion battery that affords a total output of 290 horsepower and a range of 700-miles. Charge times are two to four hours at 220 volts with a "Level 2" charge cord unit, and eight to fifteen hours at 110 volts with a "Level 1" charge unit, he said.

How will that technology get affected by extreme operating temperatures? It will be interesting to see the results. Trucks must work in such conditions day in and day out across a large swath of the U.S., and if hybrids are to make a go of it in the light truck world, they need to be able to handle such harsh operating parameters as a matter of course.

We’ll see how this hybrid package holds up. 

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