The current economic chaos in the automotive industry is about to claim two more victims on Green Street. Chrysler's announcement that it intends to close its SUV assembly plant in Newark, Delaware this December, a year ahead of schedule, means that the just-introduced Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen Hybrids, along with their conventional counterparts made at that facility will be rolling off into the sunset with no Plan B to fall back on. Both Aspen and Durango sales numbers have been severely hammered in 2008, but Chrysler had hoped the arrival of these new Hybrid variants might have been enough to rekindle buyer interest in its large sport utility lines. Regrettably, the events of the last several months relegated that optimism to an exercise in wishful thinking as part of a carnage-fest that also will see Chrysler LLC make major additional trimdowns to its worldwide workforce.
Although decidedly late to the Hybrid party, the Aspen and Durango do boast sophisticated two-mode technology that was co-developed and shared with BMW, Daimler and General Motors. Like their GM rivals, two-mode versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and more recently, the Cadillac Escalade, the Aspen/Durango duo feature motor/generator-in-the-transmission configurations that permit them to operate in either pure electric or electric-assist modes as well as run on their gasoline-powered Hemi V8 engines alone, depending on load conditions. So far over 3,000 people were impressed enough with their significant pricing advantage and best-in-class 20/22 mpg city/highway EPA ratings to say yes to this hybrid duo, but production of both will cease at year's end. So far, the two-mode Dodge Ram Hybrid due for 2010 is still set to arrive on schedule.