I’ve been at two auto events recently where the new Dodge Durango hybrid was made available for journalists to drive and evaluate. The first was Mudfest earlier this month, where the Durango hybrid topped the Best Family SUV category, where it competed with non-hybrid vehicles.
The second event was just a few days ago, when Chrysler/Dodge brought a handful of new models to Portland, Oregon, for the press to peruse. The 2009 Dodge Durango hybrid had just that day earned its official EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city, 22 highway, and the company learned that the SUV was eligible for a $2,200 tax credit. The new rating marks an improvement in the hybrid Durango’s mileage over its conventional, petrol-burning Durango sibling by 50% in the city and 40% overall.
The phrase we keep hearing from SUV manufacturers is “no compromises.” Apparently, Joe Buyer is afraid that his new hybrid SUV will be wussy, and the PR folks are working to counter that. The Dodge Durango hybrid still has a V8 engine, though four cylinders will cut out when the engine isn’t under load. It still has 4-wheel drive and eight seats, and it can still tow 6,000 pounds. (The conventional Durango pulls 8,800 pounds; it’s up to you to decide if that’s a compromise.) But it also has stop-start technology and the two-mode hybrid system. The Dodge Durango hybrid and its cousin, the Chrysler Aspen hybrid, will be at dealerships by the end of 2008 with a price tag starting at $45,340.
The curious thing was that despite the tax credit and the clamor for gas-sipping, emissions-lite vehicles, Chrysler still isn’t wholeheartedly embracing the hybrid platform. While the GM rep I spoke with a couple weeks ago said he didn’t see why all of GM’s large vehicles couldn’t be based on a hybrid system like the Yukon has, the Chrysler rep at the more recent event said his company was going to wait and see. There are plenty of reasons for auto companies to take baby steps these days, but hybrid technology shouldn’t be one of the things they hold back on. Especially if there really are “no compromises.”