Here’s a story that will make CleanTechnica readers tear their hair out. FCA, parent company of Chrysler and Jeep, has announced it will invest $4.5 billion to upgrade or build new factories in Michigan. That may be good news for the thousands of auto workers laid off by GM recently — FCA says its plans will result in the creation of 6,500 new jobs — but it is far from good news for anyone who would like to see the US lower its carbon emissions from the transportation sector.
In a press release issued on February 26, FCA said it is working with authorities for the city of Detroit and state of Michigan to get the necessary clearances and approvals to construct what will be the first new manufacturing facility within the city limits in more than 30 years.
“Three years ago, FCA set a course to grow our profitability based on the strength of the Jeep and Ram brands by realigning our U.S. manufacturing operations,” said Mike Manley, CEO of FCA. “Today’s announcement represents the next step in that strategy. It allows Jeep to enter two white space segments that offer significant margin opportunities and will enable new electrified Jeep products, including at least four plug-in hybrid vehicles and the flexibility to produce fully battery-electric vehicles.” That “flexibility to produce” language is corporate-speak for “if anyone actually wants to buy an electric vehicle from us or fools in some future administration force us to build them.”
Mostly, the news from FCA is more pickup trucks and bigger SUVs as America’s taste for bigger vehicles grows and grows. The company does manufacture the Pacifica Hybrid minivan, which by all accounts is a terrific vehicle for hauling lots of people and things in a reasonably fuel efficient fashion, but the company still is scared to death to tell customers that the Pacifica has a plug.
The plug-in hybrid Jeeps are expected to be ready by 2021, but no one knows how many customers will plunk down their hard-earned money to buy one. Jeep people are in love with tradition much as Harley-Davidson riders are in love with V Twin engines. Replacing round headlights with square headlights a few years back created such a backlash among the faithful it almost killed the brand. Whether Jeep people will be receptive to Jeeps with plugs is anyone’s guess.
Still, it’s good that FCA is at least sniffing around the edges of EV revolution. And the new jobs in Michigan will be welcome news as well. But FCA better hope people’s tastes in vehicles never changes, because if they do, the company will have no answer for them. America already went through one ultra-large vehicle boom–bust cycle that saw the short-lived appearance of the Hummer brand. Maybe FCA execs can’t remember back that far.