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Chrysler plans Dodge Ram hybrid in 2010

DETROIT, April 14 (Reuters) - Chrysler LLC [CBS.UL] plans to roll out a hybrid version of its Dodge Ram pickup truck in 2010 that is similar to two SUVs it is launching this year, the automaker’s product development chief said on Monday.

The company already expects to launch hybrid versions of its Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen SUVs in the summer and a standard redesigned version of the Dodge Ram in the fall, Frank Klegon said at SAE International’s 2008 World Congress.

Chrysler, which has been moving quickly to restructure its operations since Cerberus Capital Management LP acquired an 80 percent stake in the automaker last year, also is launching a new muscle car, the Challenger, later this year, and started a marketing campaign for its Dodge Journey crossover in April.

“We are going to need to expand our hybrid offerings and we are doing that, we just haven’t announced which specific vehicles are going to show up beyond the truck,” Klegon said in an interview. “We did talk about the Ram pickup truck, which is going to use a similar system.”

The Ram would have a similar drive system to the Durango and Aspen SUV hybrids, which use nickel metal hydride batteries and have larger engines that are capable of operating on four cylinders at highway speeds up to 70 miles per hour to improve fuel economy, he said.

Chrysler, which lost $1.6 billion last year, launched a national marketing campaign on Monday. It has said 260 improvements approved in the first 60 days of the new company represented an investment of more than half a billion dollars and that list has grown to more than 400.

Klegon said the changes include interior improvements such as to the instrument panel and trim, added materials to cut noise, and stiffening other areas to reduce vibration and make the ride smoother.

“We are trying to look at every element that we have heard some criticism on ... and taking some very specific actions,” he said. “From an ongoing perspective, we want to make sure those investments are managed in the new vehicle costs.”

On Monday, Chrysler also said some 2009 vehicles would have several new options, including a system that warns drivers backing out of parking spaces of approaching traffic and one that monitors the driver’s blind spot. (Reporting by David Bailey; editing by Carol Bishopric)