Chrysler Bombshell: Electric Vehicle Production By 2010

When Chrysler president Jim Press teased the automotive press early this month, saying that the company’s first wave of electric cars were “closer to production than you think,” it’s doubtful that anyone envisioned this.

Top executives of the Chrysler Corporation took the wraps off a line of electric and hybrid vehicles today, neatly upstaging the relentless drumbeat of Chevrolet Volt publicity. In a CNBC exclusive interview, the company both upended and validated the future arrival of electrically driven vehicles.

Chrysler did GM one better by showing an electric-drive vehicle for each of its brands. They are an all-electric Dodge EV sports car, and both a Jeep Wrangler 4×4 and Chrysler Town & Country minivan with series hybrid powertrains, which give 40 miles of electric range and use a small motor for another 400 miles. The company also showed the Peapod, a new neighborhood electric vehicle that it said will later spawn a city car.

Dodge EV

At least one of the three will go on sale by the end of 2010, said Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli, and all are intended for production. Each one runs on lithium ion batteries from a different supplier, and Nardelli told Global Insight analyst Aaron Bragman that the entire project had been greatly assisted by Chrysler’s partnership with General Electric, announced earlier this year. He noted that the company’s independent ENVI group—from the first four letters of “environmental”—had done all the work in-house, acting as a systems integrator for components from a variety of suppliers.

The Dodge EV is an electric adaptation of the Lotus Europa, announced at this summer’s London Motor Show. Using a lithium ion battery pack, it is said to do 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, and offer a range of 150 to 200 miles. The car shown was bright yellow with twin black stripes running the length of its roof, hood, and deck, clearly evoking the performance mantle of the Dodge Viper V-10 sports car. But viewed in another light, it slavishly follows the blueprint for the Tesla Roadster: Start with a lightweight Lotus sports car platform, remove the engine, add a large battery pack and electric motor. Result: an all-electric sports car.

Towns & Country EV

The Chrysler electric minivan retains the original’s ability to seat seven passengers, and even its “Swivel’n’Go” seating option with a removable table for the rear two seats. The lithium ion batteries are mounted under the floor—meaning no “Stow’n’Go” seats that collapse into the floor—and a small 1-liter engine recharges the pack for an additional 400 miles or so of range.

The Jeep EV, shown in a Wrangler Unlimited four-door body, also uses a small engine to extend its range after 40 miles of electric running. The interesting feature here—currently being explored but far from ready for prime time—is the use of four wheel motors, rather than a single motor driving one set of wheels. Thus far, no production vehicle has used this technology. Its advantage is that it gives infinite variation over each individual motor via electrically controlled all-wheel-drive. The challenge, as engineers know, is “unsprung weight,” or the need to beef up the suspension to handle much, much heavier wheel-and-hub components.

Jeep EV

The final vehicle was the Peapod, a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV)—presumably to be sold under the GEM brand—that Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said would serve as the base for an urban car. GEM has sold almost 40,000 NEVs in 10 years, representing 90 percent of the country’s NEV sales; they have now accumulated 250 million miles in retirement communities and commercial fleets. It can be assumed that Chrysler knows more than most carmakers about how EV drivers actually use their cars, and what they want in them.

Chrysler Peapod EV

But Chrysler may not be planning to build EV versions of its existing products—despite the adapted minivan and Wrangler it showed off. At last January’s Detroit Auto Show, it unveiled three concept cars driven by electric motors. Each used a different mix from a common set of electric, hybrid, or fuel-cell building blocks that Chrysler said it was considering for future drivetrains. And each had unique and differentiated styling appropriate to the brand.

At the time, ENVI president Frank Rhodes was asked about integrating new powertrains—battery packs, electric drive, range-extending engines—into architectures also built to accommodate standard engines. He reacted sharply. “Sharing platforms? We don’t think that makes sense. You won’t really create an efficient application. We believe that end result is sort of the worst of all.” In other words, Chrysler may not adopt GM’s tactic of using a global platform for both the conventional Chevrolet Cruze and the extended-range EV Chevrolet Volt.

In one fell swoop, Chrysler has moved the industry’s painful transformation to electric drive further along and, not incidentally, drawn a line in the sand that competitors—Toyota, GM, Nissan, and others—will have to cross. The year 2010 promises to be positively riveting for consumers and green car watchers alike.


  • Anonymous

    WOW!

  • MikeD

    Let’s hope they follow-up on these. These plug-in hybrids could really break through to the other side.

  • TD

    What are the projected prices for these vehicles?

    These mean nothing if they are outrageously overpriced like the Volt. Who’s going to pay $40,000 for a Volt when you can buy a Prius or a Civic Hybrid for $20K-$25K?

  • David

    Who will buy these? How about anyone who needs something larger than a Prius or Civic? How about contractors who need to haul their gear to the worksite (my girlfriend uses a minivan for just that)?

    Wht I noticed was that none of these vehicles seems to be competition for the Volt, Prius or Camry Hybrid. That could be clever (sell the vehicles that the others aren’t selling) or deadly (maybe most people want the Prius/Camry/Civic and the minivan/Jeep/sports car era is over)

  • jvoelcker

    Nardelli fudged on the pricing question. He said, “We’re very sensitive to that” and that “a wide range of consumers can handle a wide range of price points”. And he led off his response by referring to the $25 billion of loan guarantees for the US auto industry that are now being debated in the House and Senate.

    So the answer is, They don’t know, but probably higher than you’d like. OTOH, remember, these are not Prius-style hybrids. They’re fully electric vehicles for 40 miles, and then 40-mpg vehicles after that. (Except for the Dodge EV sports car, which is a 150- to 200-mile EV.)

    If and when they get put into production, that is.

  • anonymous

    Wow !!!!! Cool !!!!!

  • BryceFan

    Where’s Bryce? He ought to love this article.

  • Mike Dieroff

    These vehicles will initially be quite pricey unless they are in some way subsidized by the government, which probably is not a bad way to get started at minimizing our fossil fuel demand. Otherwise, these vehicles will capture a smaller segment of the market. For everybody else who wants an electric vehicle, they will continue to depend on the lower cost EV Conversion market currently thriving in the US.

  • Brian in Highland

    Again, with the sports car electic, and who is it that is going to buy these? The mini van is great, the 4×4, well I am sure the YUPPIES will be happy. How about just giving me a standard 4 door coupe that is useful for the family, is that too much to ask for? I must say though, that I at least applaud Chrysler for being the first american company to give you at least a choice more than a vapor car that has been talked about for years and everyone is skeptical will ever see production (VOLT).

  • cferger

    This is great news. Perhaps it will force the competition to bring alternatives to the market sooner. With 3 kids in car seats, I need a minivan, but the Chrysler minivan is hardly mini and to my mind the ugliest of a uniformly ugly vehicle category. Please Toyota, Honda, anyone; step up, bring us a plug-in series hybrid minivan or I will have to buy this F-ugly Chryser in two years.

  • Eric

    So are these actually working electric vehicles or just regular gas guzzlers with obnoxious big ev lettering?

  • Jeff

    As usual, with a release date of late 2010 this is all specs on paper. If it does work out then they will have stepped on the real inovators like Tesla to do it.

  • Samie

    Whats exciting about this is the four wheel motors, the all wheel drive component of the Jeep EV. All wheel drive is important for those who know about driving in snow. Not much standardization in these models which may drive up the costs. Not sure if these vehicles will be a huge success in the early market but got to say I’m glad to see this development. Will the others wait or jump into the mix? Wait and let the early guys take the losses or jump in and see if you can gain a large portion of the market share like Toyota did with the Prius. Should be fun to watch.

  • Nope! Not impressed.

    First of all… I am NOT impressed with the price tag of these EV’s, and I’m not drawn in from the hype. Car companies make claims like this all the time, and the onle ones REPEAT… ONLY ones who do it are the 100% EV manufacturers.

    Companies like Goss132, and Tesla. Though I admit Goss132 is probably the most realistic by far. $22,000 respectively for a regular
    4 door sedan that is 100% EV, and plugs in.

    Goss132 is based in North Florida, and can meet the promise of making affordable Electric Vehicles.

    They have my vote utterly and completely. Love you Goss132. You saved my budget!

  • Shines

    Nope! Not impressed. Why don’t you ask HybridCars.com for an interview to discuss your Goss132 concept. You’d be better off being up front about your plans in stead of making negative comments about the competition.
    I can see how frustrating it is to see the big manufacturers ramping up quickly to produce what you might be hoping to produce.
    By the way what are you saying by: can meet the promise of making affordable electric vehicles? That’s future tense. They’re saving your budget how? By not yet providing a vehicle to buy?
    I went to the Goss website, there isn’t even a mockup of the Goss132. Sorry to be mean but if the Goss132 isn’t road ready before the Volt or the Chrysler products mentioned above its chances are slim.
    Good luck with it.

  • simon@aus

    Unsprung weight – i didnt know that was a problem – nice informative article. It’s funny that these cars are so very ape-ish of their ICE cousins – I mean those are HUGE grills which are presumably redundant or nearly so – lots of drag, some weight.

    I think the sports car makes some sense – it is meant as a not entirely practical car so a prospective owner might be able to live with any range issue – thus it can go entirely electrical which must be cheaper and simpler than a serial hybrid.

  • Vaporware!

    Until people can actually purchase these vehicles, and at an affordable price, they are nothing more than vaporware and green washing.

    Detroit is great at making promises. They are terrible at making decent cars that make sense for real world circumstances.

    No bailouts or “low interest loans” allowed either! Either get with it or fail. Isn’t that what the “free market” is all about?

    You’ve enjoyed burning up our oil by marketing wasteful SUV pigs for years, while making obscene profits and fighting efficiency standards. Let’s see the real thing, on the streets in mass quantities, or stop marketing them until they are available.

    Please don’t forget to V2G capabilities or you’ll miss the “next big thing!”

  • Need2Change

    Wow!! I’m impressed.

    I bet Tesla is worried. If Chrysler builds a $50K-$70K sports car, the demand for the $110K Tesla may evaporate.

    And yes, the sub-$30K Prius will remail popular, but those with less than 40 miles round trip commutes may benefit from electric only operation with one of these Chryslers.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Go Chrysler!
    I hope Chrysler is serious here. I had hoped that when Jim Press left Toyota last year to work on EVs at Chrysler that we would be hearing something. I guess this is the beginning of it.
    Let the games begin!
    2010 should be an interesting, nail biting year: All of the following should be on the market then:
    Tesla Model S
    Chevy Volt
    Mitsubishi MiEV
    Toyota ??? plug-in
    Miles Sedan
    Chrysler (mini-van, I hope)
    Phoenix SUT
    Hyundai ???

    If you want to be part of the solution to our oil addiction problem, you’ll have to be willing to fork out a bit more than you would for a commodity gasoline ICE powered vehicle. The upfront costs of these things isn’t going to be cheap. I suggest that you start saving your money now though. Also, I recommend that you keep driving whatever you’ve got now so you’ll have a bit more cash available when some of these actually hit the road. Don’t buy another car that requires petroleum.
    Consider that you’re investing in the future. Your kids and grandkids will thank you for preserving our lifestyle for them however.

  • John Mansfield

    As far as the sports car is concerned, by using a Lotus chassis Chrysler are going the same route as GM (Opel Speedster) and Tesla.
    This week Fiat announced that the new Fiat “Dino” would share it’s platform from the Lotus Elise (http://myvision.iuplog).
    I’m sure Dodge can come up with an attractive styling package. Insert a battery and voila!

  • PatrickPunch

    Is this the next buble after the internet buble and real estate buble? The not-market-ready-EV-buble.

    On http://www.greencarcongress.com you can find statements that batteries are not yet ready for plug-ins and EVs. Statements from GM and the DoE. So these anouncempents are pure window dressing.

    The US automotive industry should put its efforts in developments that bring realistic mainstream products on the market before they have shrunk to a size where they are take-over candidates.

    These press releases do not impress me at all.

  • Alias

    How about a sporty two seater for about 30K coming out next year? Speed and range over 100 mph.

  • Alias
  • James F

    I have never heard of any electric vehicle that had air conditioning. Down south, we will not want to go anywhere without it. Also, I have never heard anything about a heater. Both air conditioning and heat would be major power robbers of battey power. Please comment

  • Boom Boom

    Apparently the folks over at Chrysler have taken a page out of the GM Vaporware Manual. Perhaps Ford will announce a production electric car for 2009 next just to get some buzz.

    Chrysler is going down the right path with 40 mile range electrics, just like the Volt is going down the right path. The real test, however, will be when they actually get them on the market.

    The US automakers appear to be out in front of Toyota (and most of the rest of the Japanese manufacturers) on electrics, but they need to make sure the first vehicles they get out on the streets actually deliver the goods. Honda and Toyota’s first hybrids on the US roads (Insight, Prius) were reliable and basically trouble free. I genuinely hope that US Auto can deliver on the promises they’re making.

  • Snip Snappensnur

    Why no photo of the Aptera? (see Aptera.com).

  • Will S

    > How about just giving me a standard 4 door coupe that is useful for the family, is that too much to ask for?

    Ditto. Or is the Prius too far ahead and Chrysler has given up on that market? What about a high mpg 2 seater that’s not a luxury sports car, like the original Honda Insight?

  • Anonymous

    Here’s a bombshell. Why not take a Smartcar pull the engine out and put an electric motor in. This isn’t rocket science, they already make a perfectly suitable vehicle, just convert it to electric already.

  • JH

    Reply to Alias on Zap: From wikipedia:

    ZAP sold a lot of shares based on its intention to sell Smart cars, but that deal fell through, leading the Smart car’s manufacturer to say that ZAP’s behavior revealed “both the sham nature of its purported business and a lack of trustworthiness that is nothing short of stunning.”. Zap has a history of making public relations statements for future projects which are never implemented or funded.

    It’s a hot car but I’m not holding my breath.

  • steved28

    James, today’s hybrids use electric A/C compressors already. They work fine, but yes, they do draw a fair amount of juice. Heat can be generated via heat pumps pretty efficiently. But currently a hybrid car relies on the ICE to produce cabin heat.

  • kurtdaniel

    wowh!!!this is the best of the best!!!

  • take a look
  • thomatt12

    Good move for Chevy. I will wait for this car to go on production.

  • Levom

    Makes me want to throw up thinking of an electric wrangler. Jesus, you can sell anything to anyone these days. So, we defer power consumption from petrol to the electrical grid, with all its inefficiencies and manufacturing energy usage, and the coal that still burns in most plants to distribute it. Retard environmentalists wouldn’t know a gamma emission from an alpha decay but sure know nuclear power is 100% pure evil. This country has fostered about the dumbest batch of people with influence the world has ever seen..

  • Li-ion Motors

    I am joseph informing you about company ( Hybrid Technologies) which has been changed as L-ion Motor Corp, when you open http:hybridtechnologies.com it ‘ll redirect you on http://www.li-ionmotors.com Link of this Li-ion Motors website.