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New York — Chrysler brand chief Al Gardiner says its forthcoming plug-in hybrid Chrysler Town & Country minivan due out next will be game changer.

"If we can produce something that is incredibly efficient, that you can 30, 40 miles with zero tank of gas — that will you get a combined — let's call it 75, 80 eMPG — it's a gamechanging number," Gardiner said Wednesday in an interview on the sidelines of the New York International Auto Show.

The minivan owner doesn't drive as much as the general customer. "The first to market that can produce family vehicles that are efficient — I think we'd all agree we're a little behind the times — we need to be that and the Chrysler brand is the perfect brand to do that for FCA."

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV plans to show the new Chrysler Town & Country minivan and plug-in version at the Detroit North American International Auto Show in January.

Regardless of gas prices, Fiat Chrysler needs to build plug-in hybrid and other advanced technology vehicles to meet rising fuel efficiency standards. Fiat Chrysler, according to an Enviornmental Protection Agency report last week, remained the least fuel efficient major automaker and purchased fuel economy credits from Tesla Motors Inc. to help meet requirements.

"The federal government will mandate in no uncertain terms what you will and will not build or you will not sell cars in this country," Gardiner said. "There are multiple reasons why you do it but the number one reason is you have no choice. We've got to figure it out and hurry up and get on with it."

Gardiner says with $7,500 tax credits and access to HOV lanes, the company is convinced there is a market for the plug-in vehicle among soccer moms and dads. "It will do everything you want it to do on top of being a hybrid," Gardiner said. "There's no reason to believe this won't sell in decent numbers."

Other automakers are unveiling plug-in SUVs. Mercedes Benz said Tuesday it will launch a plug-in hybrid SUV — the GLE 550e.

In May, Fiat Chrysler said in 2016 it will cut in half its number of minivan nameplates; only the Chrysler Town & Country will remain, and the Dodge Caravan will disappear so the brand can focus on performance vehicles.

Gardiner noted that Chrysler once had a hybrid Aspen — and has the know-how. "There are multiple ways frankly I would tell you that we can do it better than anyone else because of the architecture and the design," Gardiner said.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has been heavily critical of EVs.

"Let the automotive industry get there. We'll find a way to get there in the most cost-efficient way," he said in January. "Don't tell me that I need to have electrification as the answer. It's improper."

Marchionne has previously criticized U.S. federal and state mandates that push manufacturers to build electric cars. Fiat Chrysler currently produces an all-electric Fiat 500, which Marchionne has told people not to buy because the company loses $14,000 per vehicle.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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