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DaimlerChrysler Ramps Up its Plug-In Sprinter Development Program

Schematic of the Sprinter PHEV design. Click to enlarge.

DaimlerChrysler has announced that it will put more than 20 Dodge Sprinter Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) in service in the US between now and the first quarter of 2008 as part of a test fleet program.

The company has been working with EPRI on the development and testing of different plug-in hybrid powertrain configurations supported by different battery chemistries, including lithium-ion. Four of the Sprinter PHEVs are already in operation with customers. (Earlier post.)

Daimler Chrysler took the opportunity of its announcement to point out that it was the only major automaker actively building and testing plug-ins with lithium-ion batteries in customer fleets—an indirect swipe at the publicity generated by GM’s Volt concept plug-in unveiled at the North American International Auto Show. Unlike the Volt, with its electric-drive-only series hybrid architecture, the Sprinter PHEVs are parallel hybrids, offering a combination of electric and mechanical drive.

The future of plug-in hybrid technology rests on a number of improvements, the most significant being batteries. The battery systems in the PHEV Sprinter continue to provide valuable data on the possibilities with lithium-ion technology.

—Dr. Andreas Truckenbrodt, Executive Director, DaimlerChrysler Hybrid Programs

A number of the Dodge Sprinter PHEVs are equipped with lithium-ion batteries which are about half the weight and have much greater storage capacities compared to nickel-metal hydride batteries. Some of those li-ion batteries are from Saft, who in its joint venture with Johnson Controls is providing li-ion battery packs to GM for assessment in the VUE plug-in program.

The Sprinter vehicles in testing will yield technical information through real world driving conditions about lifetime, performance and cost of batteries.

One of the critical issues especially facing makers of parallel architecture PHEVs is the nature of the operating strategy, i.e., should the vehicle be designed to deliver a fixed all-electric, zero-emissions range (ZEV VMT), or should it operate in a blended strategy, in which the battery energy is equivalent to the ZEV VMT model, but in which the electric drive operates in support of the mechanical drive, rather than all alone.

The series hybrid approach represented by the Volt and by the concept Ford Airstream puts a different wrinkle on the problem, although in both designs there is still an urgent and compelling need for real-world testing and data gathering.

At the California Air Resources Board Zero Emissions Vehicle symposium in September 2006, Dr. Mark Duvall outlined the basic pros and cons of the all-electric and blended strategies for parallel PHEVs (see table below), noting that the blended approach could likely support a lower-cost, nearer-term commercial product. However, real-world data is critical for making that determination.

There is a difference between test cycles and real world driving which will determine electric-operation and the user’s experience. Even modest levels of electric performance could result in numerous all-electric trips or electric vehicle miles.

—Mark Duvall

Based on Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicle technology, the Dodge Sprinter PHEV has the ability to drive up to 20 miles in all-electric mode. A switch on the dashboard allows the operator to manually switch between modes as needed, or automatically by the vehicle control system.

Two different combustion engines are being offered in the PHEV: diesel or gasoline. The diesel version will yield the highest fuel economy benefit and is the first fleet test of a diesel plug-in hybrid system.

Tradeoffs between parallel PHEVS with or without ZEV VMT capability
ARB-certified 20 miles AER
  • Likely higher efficiency and performance
  • Fewer cold starts
  • Lower engine-on time
  • Greater potential for emissions reductions
  • Possibly a superior long-term solution (e.g. PHEV 40)
  • Higher power electric drive and battery
  • Powertrain must allow higher speeds
  • Require different emissions aftertreatment
  • PHEV 20 Blended
  • Lower power electric drive and battery
  • Similar emissions system requirements to HEV
  • Greater synergies with current HEVs
  • Potentially a lower cost, nearer-term product
  • Reduced or no emissions benefits over PZEV
  • Potentially lower performance (relative)
  • Takes longer to use battery energy
  • Resources:



    The NAIAS 2007 Recap left the impression that Daimler was absent from hybrid development. This article reminds us they are in the mix as well.


    While they're at it, why not test VIPV on the plug-in Sprinter too?

    VIPV (Vehicle-Integrated Photovoltaics):


    I was the one who posted regarding the seeming abscence of DCX in the green car array these days on the NAIAS article. I think it is good to read that they are at least pursuing the PHEV concept with their Sprinter vans. With today's marketplace being so a ubuzz with the quest for efficiency, you have to fear for the financial health of any company that does not at least investigate the benefits of hybrids, BEV's, or FCV's. I thought before reading this, that DCX may be among the "Non-green". Their main leaning seems to be towards diesels, but even in that arena, they have a long way to go before they can own the diesel market.

    It is encouraging to read that the car companies are seriously pursuing PHEV's. I hope they achieve a lot of success----and soon.

    kent  beuchert

    What happened? Did Chrysler listen to the applause for the Chevy VOLT then go out and stuff some batteries and an
    electric motor in a couple cars and add a 110 volt plug?
    What could Chrysler possibly learn by sending 20 cars out to consumers for "testing." What exactly are they testing?
    This smacks of PR, pure PR. If they were serious about all this, they would have given them to employees, not the
    general public, like they always do.


    kent b:

    DCX Sprinter plug-in program has been in the works for a while. Sprinter is a delivery van platform, not typically sold to general public. Putting 20 vans into real-world service is just what you would expect to do before expanding a new technology into mass production, don't you think?


    Kent, you write:

    "What happened? Did Chrysler listen to the applause for the Chevy VOLT then go out and stuff some batteries and an electric motor in a couple cars and add a 110 volt plug? "

    The Mercedes Benz Sprinter PHEV program has been in development since 2003 - 04. The Sprinter is a Light Commercial Vehicle. The first PHEV Sprinter vans with NiMH and LiIOn batteries went into real world testing with delivery companies and other commercial users in the USA in late 2005. I think about 8 were delivered in late 05.

    Until they have carried out extensive real world testing - Function and Reliability trials - they will not know how the technology will stand up to real world use. This is the purpose of the trials. Otherwise, you will go and buy one and after three years something will pack up and you will be an irate customer.

    As of today, the Mercedes Sprinter program is still the ONLY PHEV being tested from a major automobile manufacturer. They were the first to design and start a test program and no-one else is doing it yet - unless Toyota have a secret program which is possible.

    The Chevy Volt is vaporware - it doesn't run, it does not even have a battery in it. 16kWh LiIon my foot. Vaporware.


    We have to believe that the Volt will arrive. But these type of commercial vehicles will be important to dampen overall CO2 emission.


    "unless Toyota have a secret program which is possible."

    Rumour has it they have been beta-testing a PHEV-60 on Japanese roads for a while. Time will tell if this is true or not.


    Short of a full PHEV, Toyota (Hino) actually sells HEV diesel light (delivery) trucks since 2001. Unfortunately with the steering wheel on the wrong side, for any western journalist to get note...

    I would argue that selling a product since 2001 (in the hundreds of units per year) is significantly more than sending a dozend or so vehicles to selected fleets for testing...


    Is there a way a small US company or individual could sign up for testing the Plug-in Sprinter?

    Gerry Huber

    I think this is the perfect class B RV. When can I test one?


    I would like to test, as this is the first hybrid van of any kind that I've seen which has the capability of being adapted for a driver that requires wheelchair accessiblity...I'd love to trade-in my '95 Ford E150 for one of these babies.


    I would like to purchase a Sprinter and install my own Photo/Voltaic system on it to let it recharge the batteries anytime it is sitting in the sun.


    I drive 70 miles each way to work with hills and flat land and would love to test one of these babys out for them it sure would off set the $6ooo.oo a year for gas I spend. Please some one contact me to test one out.

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