A cleaner generation of 4x4s

| Transport

FCAs Melfi plant in Italy is tooling up to add PHEVs to its production portfolio

Motor manufacturer invests in 4×4 hybrid production facility to meet expected market demand within the emerging lucrative segment in sustainable motoring.

The traditionally gas-guzzling 4×4 segment of the automotive market is gaining new life with the introduction of Plug-In Hybrid versions, which promise to provide owners with luxury and utility combined with guilt reducing electric powertrains.

Even such a seemingly unlikely contender as Porsche has produced a hybrid version of the Cayenne and Mitsubishi is enjoying high levels of growth in the UK for its thrifty Outlander PHEV.

Compliant Renegade

Now it’s the turn of the grandad of sports utility vehicles, Jeep. The brand’s parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is beginning preparations at its Melfi plant in Italy to produce the Jeep Renegade Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) scheduled for market launch in early 2020. The Renegade PHEV will be produced alongside the Renegade and 500X full combustion engine products that are currently produced at the Melfi vehicle assembly plant.

The pre-production units of the new Jeep Renegade PHEV are scheduled in 2019. The investment for the new engine launch equates to more than €200M and also includes a strong commitment by FCA for training all workers on the application of this new technology. The Plant facilities involved in the production will also be modernised accordingly.

”With over 742,000 Renegades produced to date in Italy, the Melfi plant and the Renegade are the ideal location and the perfect product to launch the PHEV, further strengthening the offer of this highly successful Jeep”, said Pietro Gorlier, Chief Operating Officer EMEA region.

Electrification Strategy

FCA recently stated that one of the most important change factors addressed in its strategic plan is electrification. Investment that the company is making will result in a portfolio of technology that will enable FCA to comply with the regulatory requirements in the markets it aspires to.

An important part of this regulatory compliance is the inclusion of testing and assurance strategies to match the new requirements relating to electric vehicle production, including safety, EMC and other factors.

The Renegade PHEV is the next step in FCA’s roll-out of Electrification, following the launches of the PHEV Pacifica Minivan and the mild-hybrid e-Torque technology launched on the Ram 1500 vehicle earlier in 2018. By 2022, FCA will offer a total of 12 electric propulsion systems (BEV, PHEV, full-hybrid and mild-hybrid) in global architectures.

Wider success for PHEV 4x4s

The popularity of the 4×4 as a hybrid was illustrated in the 3rd quarter of 2018 in the UK with the announcement by Mitsubishi of continued growth in sales of its Outlander PHEV, equivalent to 9% year on year.

Of the Outlander PHEV sales it made, almost 40% were to private customers, people who want a practical, all-purpose vehicle that can run on low-cost electricity for day-to-day driving with petrol power for longer runs or when full 4×4 versatility is required.

So far in 2018, Outlander PHEV sales have reached over 5,700 units, which equates to 17% of the total plug-in hybrid market in the UK, illustrating the popularity of the once ecologically questionable 4×4 segment, now that it has been electrified.

Rob Lindley, Managing Director, Mitsubishi Motors in the UK put this down to the publication of Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) performance figures illustrating range and emission levels. This is becoming increasingly important for pollution conscious consumers. “We were one of the first manufacturers to announce WLTP figures for PHEVs and this has allowed us to be in a position to continue selling vehicles in such an important market,” he said.

Jonathan Newell
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