Chrysler Stuns Automotive World with Four New Electric Cars

Posted: September 23, 2008

Chryslers New Electric Cars

EV Preview Pictures

Just one day after reports that Chrysler was preparing a competitor for the Chevy Volt, the company sucked the air out of the automotive press with a highly unusual move this morning.  The imperiled Detroit automaker, long thought to be behind its rivals in developing fuel-efficient cars, used an appearance on CNBC to unveil four new electric vehicles that had been developed, according to CEO Bob Nardelli, "in relative secrecy."  While most automakers have gone out of their way to generate publicity for their green vehicle efforts in recent years, privately-owned Chrysler had kept these vehicles under wraps until this morning.  The vehicles appear relatively close to production-ready, and could change the landscape of the automotive industry.

In a video of the reveal posted on the CNBC website, Chrysler Vice Chairman Tom LaSorda tells CNBC's Phil LeBeau the vehicles could be "out in use in some fleets" in 2009.  Asked when they might reach mass-production for sale in Chrysler showrooms, he replied, "We're ready to go in '11."

The vehicles included a pair of extended-range electric vehicles that Chrysler executives claimed could travel 40 miles under electric power alone before a 1-liter gasoline engine kicks in, much like Chevy's heavily-hyped 2010 Volt.  One was an unnamed Chrysler minivan, the other a four-door Jeep Wrangler.  While Chevy has not allowed the press to drive the Volt and says the powertrain isn't ready, CNBC's LeBeau was allowed to drive the Wrangler EV on a Chrysler test track. 

Perhaps the most impressive of the vehicles, however, was a purely electric sports car called the Dodge EV.  Jalopnik reports that the EV "has similar performance numbers," and "some striking visual similarities with" the Tesla high-performance electric Roadster.  Officials claim the EV accelerates from zero to sixty miles per hour in under five seconds, charges off of a standard household outlet, and has a range of 150 to 200 miles on each charge.

Lastly, Chrysler officials showed a "neighborhood vehicle" known as "the peapod," which resembled the GEM electric cars Chrysler has sold in retirement communities for several years.  No details on the peapod were offered.  GEM cars have a top speed of 25 miles per hour and generally cost about $6,000 to $9,000 dollars.

Chrysler officials did not reveal pricing details on any of the vehicles.  Asked about pricing in the video, CEO Nardelli said only "we're sensitive to that," and pointed to a proposal before Congress asking for $25 billion in loans to help the auto industry produce more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Autoblog expects these cars to be used in pushing Congress to approve the loans. "Look for all three prototypes to head to D.C., where they'll be showcased for Congressional leaders who have a say in whether or not Washington will show Detroit the money they've been asking for," they write.

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