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Chrysler to Make Plug-in SUV, Minivan and New EVs

By John Addison (9/24/08). Chrysler builds on the success of its 38,000 GEM EVs that are currently on the road in the U.S. with new battery-electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid announcements. Any time I visit university towns, corporate and government fleets, I see these GEM electric vehicles being used for practical transportation and hauling. Often, they are powered by solar roofs and carports.

The new GEM Peapod will be available for purchase in 2009, with more models to come. Eco-friendliness gets a fresh face with the GEM Peapod. The GEM Peapod brings beautiful aerodynamic style to a gas-free, emission-free vehicle. This light electric vehicle has a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and a range of 30 miles before requiring at least 6 hours for an adequate recharge of its lead-acid batteries. Peapod Specs

Three freeway-speed vehicle electric vehicle announcements were also made this September 24 by Chrysler’s ENVI – Dodge EV, Jeep EV and Chrysler EV. The development of Chrysler’s Electric Vehicles and Range-extended Electric Vehicles is led by ENVI – representing the first four letters of “environmental” – the Company’s in-house organization that was formed to focus on electric-drive production vehicles and related advanced technologies. Discussions are taking place with several lithium battery suppliers including A123.

The Jeep EV is a plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler SUV with an estimated 40 mile range in electric mode, before a small gasoline engine is engaged. The vehicle may give record fuel efficiency for customers that want SUVs, from families hauling kids and trailers to fleets. The Jeep EV will compete with the plug-in hybrid offering from Saturn VEU.

The Jeep EV uses an electric motor, an advanced lithium-ion battery system, and a small gasoline engine with an integrated electric generator to produce additional energy to power the electric-drive system when needed. The 200 kW (268 horsepower) electric motor generates 400 N•m (295 lb.-ft.) of torque. With approximately eight gallons of gasoline, the Jeep EV has a range of 400 miles, including 40 miles of zero fuel-consumption, zero-emissions, all-electric operation.

Minivan drivers have been longing for better mileage as the shuttle vans full of people and stuff. The new Chrysler Town and Country will use the same plug-in hybrid drive system as the Jeep EV.

Chrysler’s announcement should increase pressure on Toyota to announce a hybrid mini-van and for Honda to announce a more fuel efficient van using diesel.

For sports car enthusiasts, Tesla has new competition in the form of the Dodge EV, a hot two-seater with a body designed by Lotus. This battery-electric will have a range of 150 to 200 miles between charges – more miles, when driven with a feather touch; much less, with a lead-foot.

The electric-drive system consists of three primary components: a 200 kW (268 horsepower) electric motor, an advanced lithium-ion battery and an integrated power controller. The 200 kW electric-drive motor generates 650 N•m (480 lb.-ft.) of torque. The instant high torque of the electric-drive motor delivers outstanding performance, accelerating the Dodge EV to 60 mph in less than five seconds. The Dodge EV has a top speed of more than 120 mph.

Chrysler plans to have 100 of the new ENVI vehicles in fleets in 2009 and to start taking production consumer orders in 2010.

Three weeks ago, I had the chance to talk with Chrysler President Jim Press, an executive who is famous for staying in close touch with customer and dealer interests and issues. He knows how to make hybrid vehicles a success. He was President and COO of Toyota USA when Toyota made the Prius a best seller and when Toyota grew to global market leadership. After 37 years at Toyota, Mr. Press could have coasted into retirement. Instead he joined Chrysler as President and Vice Chairman, where he will be integral to building a new company.

In his travels, he notes a strong interest in EVs among younger people – he refers to this market segment as Millennials. Should Chrysler win with the new generation, they could be customers for decades. Look for Chrysler to extend the development of advanced, production-intent electric vehicles, and that it will apply electric-drive technology to its front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive and body-on-frame four-wheel-drive platforms in the next several years.

Jim Press, when talking recently with the Western Automotive Journalist, stated, “We need a new business model based on one word – Reality.” The new management team inherited a 4 million car per year overhead with sales falling to one million per year in the new era of high gasoline prices. Mr. Press is cutting unprofitable sales such as rental car fleets. He is focusing on a future of vehicles that give customers a visceral emotional connection with their car, while using electric drive systems to address fuel economy and environmental concerns.

Jim Press continues to move aggressively. After talking into the evening with California journalists, he took off for a red-eye flight back to Detroit. He wants to see Chrysler moving at the speed of their new vehicles.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report