Exactly one week after General Motors unveiled its much-publicized Chevy Volt, Chrysler tried to steal some of the general's electric-vehicle thunder by announcing three prototype electric vehicles of its own. The trio on display at the company's headquarters in suburban Detroit included a Dodge sports car based on the Lotus Europa coupe, and we were there to drive it.
The Dodge EV sports car, the Chrysler Town & Country EV, and the Jeep Wrangler EV are all candidates to become the first electric-drive vehicle that Chrysler will offer; the company promises it will hit the market by sometime in 2010. Chrysler is clearly trying to have a vehicle in consumers' hands by the same time as GM, which plans to have the Volt at dealerships by November 2010.
While the Dodge EV is a pure electric vehicle with an expected range of between 150 and 200 miles from a lithium-ion battery pack, the Chrysler and Jeep vehicles are what Chrysler calls "range-extended electric vehicles." Like the Chevy Volt, they would use solely electric power for about 40 miles, then rely on a small gasoline engine to run a generator that would produce additional electric power as needed. In the Town & Country, the battery packs are stored in the underfloor cavities that normally serve as repositories for the stow-n-go seats. In the Jeep, electric-drive components are packaged underhood without compromising ground clearance, and company engineers note that the battery pack is mounted low enough in the vehicle to actually lower the center of gravity and improve handling.
Chrysler is unwilling to specify which of these three vehicles it will bring to market first, nor to speak about expected volumes or retail prices, but company executives speak boldly about their plans for widely introducing some form or another of electric power to all of their products within time. "We expect that, by 2020, at least 50 percent of the U.S. market will consist of extended-range electric vehicles," notes Frank Klegon, Chrysler's head of product development. Company chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli adds: "We have a social responsibility to our consumers to deliver environmentally friendly, fuel efficient, advanced electric vehicles, and our intention is to meet that responsibility quickly and more broadly than any other automobile manufacturer. The introduction of the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge electric vehicles provides a glimpse of the very near future, and demonstrates that we are serious and well along in the development of bringing electric vehicles to market."