Chrysler plan heats up race for electric cars
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Chrysler LLC charged up the electric car race yesterday, muscling in on
The company showed reporters three prototypes: a Dodge sports car, a four-door Jeep Wrangler, and a Chrysler minivan. Chrysler's product development chief, Frank Klegon, said the automaker hasn't decided which one it will roll out first.
The Dodge sports car is completely electric and based on Lotus Europa underpinnings, but the Wrangler and the Town & Country minivan will be extended-range vehicles similar to the Volt, which GM has said will go on sale in November 2010.
Like the Volt, all three Chrysler vehicles are recharged by plugging them into a standard wall outlet. The sports car is supposed to have a range of up to 200 miles, while the minivan and Jeep will be able to go 40 miles on battery power, with a small engine kicking in after that to recharge the batteries and extend the range to about 400 miles.
The automaker wouldn't reveal pricing, but GM's Volt is expected to cost $30,000 to $40,000, more expensive than most conventional cars. Chrysler said it hopes the cost will drop as more vehicles are sold.
With gas near $4 per gallon, all automakers have been scrambling to roll out more efficient small cars and eventually electric vehicles. But even their new fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicles are about two years away, leaving struggling automakers to scrap for buyers in a shrinking US market that has shifted dramatically from trucks to cars.
Chrysler's sales have taken the hardest hit, and the automaker appeared to be behind other manufacturers that have announced plans to launch electric vehicles in the next few years. But vice chairman Tom LaSorda said Chrysler is further ahead on developing electric vehicles than many had thought.
Chrysler chief executive Bob Nardelli denied that Chrysler showed off its electric prototypes now because Congress is considering a $25 billion loan program to help automakers and their suppliers modernize plants to make more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Vice chairman Jim Press said the timing of the announcement also had nothing to do with the publicity GM gained last week by revealing the production version of the Volt.
"This shows that our commitment is not to public relations, but to actually advancing technology and putting it in the hands of customers in an affordable manner," Press said. "This isn't just for publicity. This is part of our development process."
Nardelli told reporters the government loans would help speed the technology to market. But if they aren't approved, Chrysler will have to spend limited resources on developing new technology and would have to make cuts elsewhere, possibly in employment and development of conventional products.
The three vehicles displayed at Chrysler's headquarters complex were second-generation prototypes, built largely on existing models in order to speed them to market, Klegon said.
Chrysler also unveiled the Peapod, a small "neighborhood electric vehicle" that can go up to 30 miles on a charge, and said it would sell an electric vehicle in Europe sometime after 2010.
Klegon said Chrysler is still working with several partners on the battery technology for its vehicles. The company has an agreement with