Take a look at any automaker's U.S. lineup right now. Pretty much every major automotive brand in the market has some kind of hybrid offering. Everybody, that is, except for Fiat Chrysler, which hasn't had a hybrid on offer since the sale of the last $1.3 million, 949-hp Ferrari LaFerrari hypercar.
That becomes particularly relevant with the recent revelation that in 2014. When your only hybrid offering is a prancing horse hypercar, of which only 500 were ever built, you've gotta stockpile those clean-air credits.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that during 2014 (the most recent full year for which data is available), FCA purchased 8.2 million megagrams of emissions credits. , each megagram credit represents 1,000 kg of assumed emissions savings. Automakers earn credits based on how much their vehicles exceed federal fuel economy and emissions requirements; brands with particularly efficient lineups can stockpile their clean-air credits and sell them to competitors, who purchase them to offset an inefficient lineup.
Here's the strange thing, though: , FCA would have been in compliance with the law for 2014, even if the automaker hadn't gone on an emissions credit spending spree. Sure, the automaker's 2014 fleet fuel efficiency was last among the major automakers, at just 20.8 mpg, and it's only predicted to rise to 21.8 mpg for 2015, which would . But we're suspicious there's something more going on here.
Neither FCA nor the EPA disclosed how much the automaker paid for its 8.2 million emissions credits. But , it's safe to assume the automaker spent around $344 million on the purchase. And with this most recent addition, the EPA says FCA has amassed 13.76 million clean air credits, at a combined value of $578 million.
To be fair, FCA has earned a number of credits for fuel-saving advances it has made to its fleet. released immediately after the EPA revealed the emissions credit purchase, FCA highlighted its better-than-industry-average improvements in truck emissions for the 2014 model year, and noted that it remains in full compliance with current emissions regulations. , changes like switching to a new, more environmentally-friendly air-conditioning refrigerant, increased use of LED lighting, and MPG-boosting eight- and nine-speed transmissions have helped FCA improve its fleet fuel economy and emissions, and earn clean-air credits in the process.
But money- likely wouldn't spend money on extra clean-air credits without good reason. And a cursory glance at the automaker's current lineup shows plenty of reason for FCA to snatch up an excess of credits while it can. It's not just the aforementioned lack of hybrids. FCA's biggest moneymakers wear Jeep and Ram badges; its hopes of bringing Alfa Romeo back to prominence in the U.S. hinge on a twin-turbo sport sedan with 505 horsepower; its ad campaigns focus almost solely on the fact that it produces a retro muscle car and a family sedan with a 707-horsepower supercharged V8, and not in particularly limited numbers.
We've heard that FCA will dip its toes into the hybrid pool next year, with a plug-in hybrid variant of . But with fuel economy and emissions regulations growing ever-stricter, and a lineup that prioritizes SUVs and trucks over more efficient offerings, it's likely FCA will have to start cashing in its clean-air credit stockpile sometime soon.