Why Doesn’t Chrysler Make Fuel Efficient Cars?

In 2010 and 2011 Chrysler Group LLC has turned its fortunes around from slumped at death’s door to reclaiming the title of the third-largest automaker in U.S. sales. Chrysler, Dodge and especially Jeep model sales are steadily climbing. That said, behind the government-assisted resurrection lies an ugly truth: based on 2010 EPA data, Chrysler sat dead last in fuel efficiency among all full-line automakers.

For model year 2010 Chrysler’s average stood at 19.2 mpg. Hyundai topped the chart at 25.6 mpg. So why do two companies with huge engineering budgets sit more than 6 mpg apart? The answer lies in Chrysler’s product portfolio focus. The company simply offers few models in any segment with exemplary fuel efficiency.

When the Federal government gave $25 billion to America’s failing auto industry in 2008, the Congressional Budget Office was clear in its recommendations:

“Manufacturers could use those loans to reequip or establish facilities to produce ‘advanced technology vehicles’ that would meet certain emissions and fuel economy standards; component suppliers could borrow funds to retool or build facilities to produce parts for such vehicles.”

Insofar as its current model lineup goes, Chrysler has largely ignored this wise piece of direction. The company’s portfolio is almost completely devoid of hybrids, with no electric cars in sight. GM’s Chevrolet Cruze and Ford’s Focus are capable of at least 40 highway mpg. Chrysler’s best excuse for a compact car, the Dodge Caliber, returns just 32 highway mpg in its most-efficient configuration and a ghastly 27 highway mpg when equipped with an automatic transmission.

Even as Toyota’s new 2012 Camry promises 35 highway mpg with a 4-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 see just 30 highway mpg in the same configuration. Speaking of these midsize twins, they are built on aging platforms with out-of-date technology, while the larger and thirstier Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger have seen full redesigns.

When Fiat purchased a majority stake in Chrysler, part of the deal was to help the American automaker produce a car returning at least 40 mpg. Now USA Today reports that may not happen any time soon. When the takeover was completed in July 2011, U.S. tax payers took a $1.3-billion dollar loss.

Despite some hot new models, especially the strong-selling new Grand Cherokee, Chrysler’s future is still not looking bright as the company remains a bottom-feeder in reliability and efficiency.

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