In the total absence of a regular information stream from the once fairly blabby (back when it was a public corporation) Chrysler, we are left to marvel aloud at the latest round of surprise moves from the now-secretive, privately held carmaker. At a hastily assembled news conference, CEO Bob Nardelli gleefully unleashed on the crowd three electric vehicles from the equivalent of nowhere. It might as well have been rabbits from a silk top hat, the jaded press corps was so stunned.
From stage left came a newly electrified Town & Country minivan and a four-door Jeep Wrangler, each using an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery system as well as a small gasoline engine with an integrated electric generator to extend range from 40 miles in all-electric mode to 400 miles using about eight gallons of gas.
Dodge had its own front-and-center moment: an all-electric, badge-engineered Lotus Europa with a range of 150 to 200 miles based on an eight-hour charge from a 110/120-volt household outlet.
"Chrysler Leaps Into Electric Race" headlined one Detroit newspaper, and "Chrysler Gets Charged Up" was the bold page-one banner on the other. How? and from where? and with whose batteries? were our immediate questions. The answers were not forthcoming, other than that Chrysler was working with Nardelli's old company, General Electric. So mistrustful was our own intrepid reporter, executive editor Joseph DeMatio, that, when Nardelli promised an electric vehicle from Chrysler by 2010, he asked, "Do you mean just one vehicle?"
Because that could be exactly what might happen - Chrysler might simply squeeze out one example so it can meet or beat General Motors to market with an extended-range electric vehicle. Actually, the likelihood that a battery company could produce a steady supply of batteries to reliably power a full run of desirable vehicles is so remote that even GM - which has been trumpeting the Chevy Volt's every baby step on the way to production - will have its own problem meeting its self-imposed late-2010 deadline.
The media just hate that Chrysler no longer seeks out our company. Consequently, we have become more suspicious of spin than usual, if that's possible. It doesn't help that Chrysler's news flash came in the middle of the congressional debate over the controversial $25 billion government loan program for Detroit carmakers. Call Chrysler's gambit a little bit of industry/government relations. It didn't help that the very next day brought word that Chrysler master Cerberus is making a play to buy the 19.9 percent of Chrysler that Daimler still owns.