CHARLOTTE, NC – Duke Energy took delivery of eight demonstration-fleet Chrysler Town & Country plug-in hybrid minivans April 18 at its headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.

The utility company serves customers in North and South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, and was ranked No. 101 last year on Automotive Fleet’s Top 300 Commercial Fleets listing, with a reported total of more than 3, 700 vehicles in operation in 2011.

The eight units are out of a total of 25 plug-in hybrid minivans Chrysler is providing to several customers as part of a two-year study of the technology's real-world performance in a minivan application. The automaker is working with the U.S Department of Energy to develop the demonstration vehicles, which will be evaluated based on city drive cycles, thermal and charging performance, fuel economy, and real-world performance.

"In 2009, we made a commitment to transition our company cars and trucks to all-electric or PHEVs, with a goal of 100 percent of all-new vehicles purchased after 2020 having plug-in capability," said Mike Allison, director of Fleet Design and Technical Services. "Giving our employees the opportunity to experience driving an electric vehicle, as well as installing the charging infrastructure and collecting the data, will help us better plan for and prepare for that transition. We appreciate Chrysler for selecting us to participate in their test."

Each plug-in hybrid minivan is equipped with an E-85-compatible 3.6L Pentastar engine mated to a front-wheel-drive, two-mode hybrid transmission, and is powered by a liquid-cooled 12.1 KWhr lithium-ion battery that affords a total output of 290 hp and a range of 700 miles. The vehicles can be charged in two to four hours at 220V with a Level 2 charge cord unit, and eight to 15 hours at 110 volts with a Level 1 charge unit. Chrysler said the vehicle's hybrid system does not require charging.

Chrysler has been working on electric versions of the Town & Country for several years now, and unveiled the all-electric minivan concepts for the United States Postal Service back in April 2009.

Duke Energy is also evaluating a fleet of plug-in hybrid Ram pickups.

Other fleets that have had the opportunity to test the automaker’s plug-in hybrid electric Ram pickups include the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the City of San Francisco, and the City of Yuma, Ariz

By Grace Suizo