TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Chrysler is working on as many fuel-saving, energy-efficient engines as possible without jumping on the electric-vehicle bandwagon, a top powertrain engineer says.

The auto maker isn’t ruling out EVs entirely, but that’s not its focus, Bob Lee, vice president-engine and electrified propulsion engineering, tells attendees at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars.

“We’ve now worked intensively on putting the company together as a powertrain organization,” he says, referring to the marriage of Chrysler and parent Fiat operations. “We can invest in transmissions and driveline components and get that synergy quicker than chasing new engines or electrification.”

Chrysler’s ties to Fiat have sparked a globalization drive that is seeing application of similar engine families across models worldwide. But the challenge is tailoring drivetrains to meet emissions standards and driver preferences for each region.

“We are moving very quickly, and I can happily say it’s a very (amicable) situation,” Lee says about the partnership, noting the Fiat DNA inside the Dodge Dart’s powertrain.

Chrysler is eyeing more diesel engines for the U.S., something already commonplace with Fiat in Europe, Lee adds.

The auto maker offers a diesel in its heavy-duty Ram pickup and has a light-duty diesel Ram on the way. It also plans to make an oil-burner available in its U.S.-market Grand Cherokee next year, and CEO Sergio Marchionne has hinted at the possibility of diesel option for the Durango SUV.

“We believe in diesels. It’s a challenge, but we can do it,” Lee tells WardsAuto after the presentation.

Adapting to strict new government regulations has been a hurdle, Lee admits, but he says growing consumer interest in diesels amid high fuel prices is the auto maker’s driving force.

For all powertrains, Lee says engineers are applying a universal formula during development that seeks to maximize efficiency throughout the vehicle.

“There are diesels that are better than gas engines. There are gas engines better than diesels. The key here is the system development and system optimization,” he says.

Since emerging from bankruptcy, Chrysler has released six new axles, all of which reduce parasitic losses, for example.

Now that the auto maker is exploring ways to integrate more of Fiat’s technology into its powertrains, “we need to ensure that the technologies applied are the best match for these transmissions,” he says.

Chrysler also is actively advocating compressed-natural-gas engines as an environmental solution in targeted markets and looking to put diesel engines in Chrysler models sold overseas.

Lee says consumer interest in EVs hasn’t been strong enough for Chrysler to consider producing one at the moment, but research continues.

“There just (isn’t) that number of buyers right now. It’ll be a migration over time,” he tells WardsAuto.

afoley@wardsauto.com