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(Reuters) - Chrysler Group LLC said it has temporarily sidelined 109 trucks and 23 minivans in plug-in hybrid test fleets due to overheating batteries in some of the pickup trucks.
Three of the Ram Truck 1500 pickup trucks in a fleet of 109 equipped with plug-in hybrid powertrains sustained damage when their prototype lithium-ion batteries overheated, Chrysler said.
There were no fires or injuries and the incidents occurred when the trucks were unoccupied, the automaker said.
Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said on Monday it was not known how long the test vehicles - deployed to 16 municipalities and utility companies in 20 states - would be sidelined, but the duration of the truck and minivan projects were not being extended beyond 2014 as planned as a result of the suspension.
The pickup truck testing began in the third quarter of 2011 and the minivan testing began in April.
The tests are being funded jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and Chrysler FIA.MI. Chrysler's piece of the funding is $65.2 million and the DOE's is $58 million. The pickup truck project is expected to cost $97.4 million and the minivan portion, using Chrysler Town & Country minivans, will cost about $25.8 million.
The batteries for the project were supplied by Electrovaya Inc EFL.TO, based in Mississauga, Ontario, near Toronto.
While the trucks and minivans are sidelined, Chrysler engineers will work to develop a "superior battery," said Michael Duhaime, Chrysler's global director of electrified powertrain propulsion systems.
In the next phase of the program, a different battery chemistry will be used, Mayne said, adding that "this is normal product development."
The fleet of trucks and minivans have accumulated 1.3 million miles, Chrysler said.
The minivans have gotten an average of 55 miles per gallon of gasoline in testing and the Ram 1500 pickups have gotten 37.4 mpg, Chrysler said.
What sets these tests apart is that some of the pickup trucks, Mayne said, are being tested for their ability to create "reverse power flow" from the batteries in the vehicles to the electrical power grid.
Also, a long-term goal is that eventually vehicle batteries can help power a variety of electrical needs in homes and businesses, particularly during peak demand on the power grid, when costs are highest.
Chrysler said the pickup trucks with the capability of transferring power to the grid from the batteries are the first factory-built vehicles to feature this technology.
(Reporting By Bernie Woodall; Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Gerald E. McCormick)
This story was corrected to show some pickup trucks, not minivans, have ability to send electricity to power grid