Harald Wester

Fiat Chrysler CTO Allies Himself With Fuel Cell Technology, Dismisses Electric Cars

It’s no secret that Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne hates electric cars. Bemoaning the existence of the Fiat 500e electric car — a vehicle he openly admitted was built just to satisfy California’s Zero Emissions Mandate — Marchionne once famously begged customers not to buy the Fiat 500e since, he claimed, the company lost thousands of dollars on every one it sold.

We know Sergio Marchionne distrusts electric cars -- now we know Fiat Chrysler's CTO does too.

We know Sergio Marchionne distrusts electric cars — now we know Fiat Chrysler’s CTO does too.

Given a rise in sales of the Fiat 500e in recent months, fuelled by some extremely good lease deals, you’d think that perhaps Fiat Chrysler might have changed its mind towards the tiny plug-in and electric vehicles in general. Indeed, recent reports that Fiat Chrysler was planning to bring a plug-in hybrid minivan to market gave us hope that was the case.

Any hope that was the case has now been dashed thanks to an interview given by Fiat Chrysler CTO Harald Wester to Motor Trend in which he dismissed any future for battery electric cars.

In his interview Wester — who also happens to be the CEO of performance brand Alfa Romeo and prestige marque Maserati — was unapologetic about his dislike for electric vehicles.

Admitting that Maserati will need to use hybrid drivetrains in order to meet ever-tougher emissions requirements in the short term, Wester expressed the switch to four-cylinder Maseratis as something of a “physiological barrier that you can’t even discuss or talk about” with many customers.

Describing a plug-in hybrid as a possible solution to enable Maserati to produce lower-emissions high-performance cars, Wester said that a four-cylinder solution could be another potential advance, adding that an “even worse” solution would involve a four-cylinder plug-in hybrid.

Fuel cell vehicles, he said, were a far more sensible proposition for the distant future.

When asked if that meant fuel cells were more sensible than battery power, his answer was decisive.

Harald Wester doesn't like plug-in cars all that much.

Harald Wester doesn’t like plug-in cars all that much.

“Absolutely,” he told Motor Trend. “What the hell do you want with 400 kilos (882) pounds of battery driving around? No.”

“Don’t forget, on this planet we are still producing between two-thirds and 70 percent of the electric energy with CO2-emitting, non-regenerative fuels,” he said. “The growth in energy demand just for growth of the population, the growth of the emerging countries, is enormous.”

Transport Evolved notes that a far higher proportion of the Hydrogen fuel currently produced in the world for use in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles comes from CO2-emitting sources such as reformed natural gas.

Eagerly dismissing Motor Trend’s reminder that electricity is needed to produce hydrogen and transport it, Wester also dismissed the idea that electric outlets are ubiquitous as being “not true,” ignoring any question of how hydrogen fuelling infrastructure needs to be built before hydrogen vehicles can reach mass-market appeal.

Wester described the thought of a four-cylinder plug-in hybrid Maserati with distain.

Wester described the thought of a four-cylinder plug-in hybrid Maserati with distain.

At best, Wester’s interview reads like it was given ten or perhaps fifteen years ago, long before the arrival of the Tesla Model S, Nissan LEAF, and Chevrolet Volt in the marketplace.

At worst, it reads like an auto-industry executive unwilling to accept the reality before him.

What do you make of Fiat Chrysler’s CTO and his take on plug-in cars? Will it change out of necessity? And what happens if it doesn’t — both to Fiat Chrysler and the Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands that Weber heads?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • Surya

    And he hasn’t been fired yet?

    • MEroller

      More and more I don’t even engage in heated arguments anymore about the stupidity of producing hydrogen with heaps of electricity we would be far better off using directly to drive: This problem will solve itself, in a rather foreseeable time scale of probably not more than a handful of years – when the tipping point has finally come where building an electric car will become cheaper than a in almost all respects comparable ICE vehicle, including potential range. With batteries getting cheaper and more power dense at rather steady rates extrapolating that to a few years ahead is pretty basic math. Fuel Cellulitis will then clearly be relegated to niches, such as flying or long-distance trucking maybe…

  • dm33

    So is the PHEV minivan coming or not? I was planning to get one as a replacement for our current minivan. Would need to make alternate arrangements if not like maybe the Mitsubishi.

  • CDspeed

    I’ve had my suspicions that FCA is a sinking ship, searching for a merger with no success, separating Ferrari to avoid destroying their best brand. They’ve been fined $105,000,000. for failure to complete recall work, and may even have to buy back half a million cars. And suddenly FCA, who has little interest in green car tech thinks they have enough knowledge to make a future prediction….. When is the going out of business sale : )

    • Matt Beard

      I wonder if any deals with a company such as Toyota are in the offing!

  • jeffsongster

    Sad when the dinosaur execs keep talking about the past… The fuel cells are silly for most vehicles… city buses and long haul trucks might be worth it… but not when it is reformed h2 from already refined gasoline or fracked natural gas. It is a big oil boondoggle. As to FCA’s prospects… every time they open their ignorant mouths they are writing their own epitaphs.

  • james

    I just don’t get it. I have had my Fiat 500e for 2 years now. It replaced an early adopted Nissan LEAF and it far surpasses the LEAF in overall enjoyment, seriously! How can they ignore the success of the 500e? It is a super EV, very fun to drive and does everything I need a car to do 98% of the time. I have my old oil burner sitting ready for the occasonal road trip.

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