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MBTA testing plug-in hybrid Ram pickups

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  September 28, 2011 07:00 AM

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The MBTA this morning took delivery of 10 plug-in hybrid pickup trucks as part of a national test with Chrysler.

Chrysler is loaning the prototype Ram 1500 PHEV, an electrified version of its full-size pickup, to the MBTA and eight other municipalities across the country, including San Francisco and Albany. Four additional pickups have been loaned to National Grid. A $48 million grant from the Department of Energy, sourced from the $787 billion stimulus package in 2009, is paying nearly half the tab for the 140 PHEV trucks in the test fleet. Chrysler is footing the other $49.4 million.

As part of the agreement, the MBTA is expected to put on at least 1,500 miles per month on the trucks and will share its fleet data with Chrysler for the next three years.

Chrysler's "two-mode hybrid" system — shelved two years ago in the middle of the recession and a tumultuous breakup from Cerberus Capital Management — lives on in the Ram PHEV. Like the discontinued Durango Hybrid, the Ram includes a two-mode automatic transmission and a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.

According to Abdullah Bazzi, Chrysler's senior manager for advanced hybrids, the Ram PHEV is not driven primarily by its electric motor, nor does it operate in all-electric mode like the Volt. A liquid-cooled 12.9-kWh battery pack sits under the crew cab's rear seats, allowing up to 20 miles of EV driving, similar to the operation in the Prius Plug-in. Chrysler says that the Ram PHEV can be charged in two hours on a 240-volt connection (and can even send up to 6.6 kilowatts of power back to the grid).

Unlike the Volt, the Ram PHEV can operate in four-wheel-drive, and switches back to two-wheel-drive at higher speeds for greater economy. Another serious bonus for guys and gals on the job: a high-voltage power strip in the bed offers four 120-volt, 20-amp outlets and a 240-volt, 30-amp outlet ready to run a clothes dryer.

Chrysler says it has no plans yet to produce a production version. Sales of GM's hybrid Silverado and Sierra full-size pickups have been light at best, and BMW — which co-developed Chrysler's original hybrid powertrain along with GM and Mercedes-Benz — is discontinuing its X6 ActiveHybrid after this year.

But with tightening fuel economy regulations (a fleet-wide 54.5 mpg average by 2025 for each automaker) and CAFE exemptions for hybrid pickups, it's very possible the Ram PHEV will end up at a charging station near you. That is, if anyone besides City Hall and the Globe, as we've been promised again and again and again, installs them in Boston.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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