Chrysler’s electric car stable

by Ernie Hernandez on January 23, 2011

Chrysler logo

Third part in a series on the state of electric cars for American consumers

You didn’t know that Chrysler had an electric car stable?

In January 2008 Chrysler introduced the Dodge ZEO (Zero Emissions Operation) concept.

Dodge ZEO concept

This four door, four passenger 2+2 sport wagon offered 23″ wheels, 268 horsepower (200 kilowatt electric motor), rear-wheel drive with a zero to sixty time of under six seconds. Offering front “scissor” doors, the ZEO was more concept than reality, but Chrysler did think through some of the engineering. The press info stated the ZEO carried a 64 kilowatt-hour battery pack with a projected driving range of 250 miles. Based on what we now know about the current state of the electric car market, these sound like “stretch” goals for an ultimate production vehicle, and one if actually produced, that would be costly.

In August 2008, Chrysler brought forth a couple more electric cars at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum Cruise Night. Chrysler showed off the Chrysler ecoVoyager and the Jeep Renegade EV concept.

Chrysler ecoVoyager

Jeep Renegade EV concept

For those of us that think that Nissan could have done a better job with the styling of the LEAF, we should be glad that the designers didn’t come up with anything that looked like the ecoVoyager.

All of these vehicles came out of Chrysler’s ENVI group. Derived from the word “environment”, ENVI was Chrysler’s in-house advanced-propulsion technology group. Created in late 2007 this group was responsible for bringing Chrysler into the electric vehicle (EV) world. Perhaps you noticed the use of past tense in the previous two sentences. This is because ENVI is no more.

As late as September 2008 Chrysler trumpeted front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive platforms for their coming EV lineup. Vehicles were destined to hit North American roads in 2010 – a pretty aggressive timeline. Then came that little automotive industry nastiness that ultimately dragged Chrysler and General Motors into bankruptcy.

When the dust settled (actually… we’re not really sure that it has yet), ENVI ceased to exist as a group as Fiat, Chrysler’s new partner, saw a different EV future than Chrysler did. Fiat did take Lou Rhodes, ENVI’s chief, and install him as the executive in charge of electric car development for both Chrysler and Fiat. So EV development is not dead at Chrysler, but it’s hard to get things done when you have no engineering team.

As for Fiat, Chrysler’s financial savior (along with all of us), they chose to use some of the work that ENVI had done to produce the Fiat 500 EV, due to reach these shores in 2012.

Fiat 500 EV

So let’s see… this leaves Chrysler with exactly… zero EVs in serious development at the moment. Well, that may not be exactly true. They might be in development, but again, without an engineering team…

This wraps up our look at the domestic big three, and their current status in the electric car world. Next, we take a look at Toyota and Honda to see how they fare.

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