Posted by: David Welch on September 26, 2008
Chrysler is just full of surprises. Earlier this week, the company told its nervous dealers that the company isn’t being sold off. It will be around for years to come and that it has some hot products coming. Among them will be an electric car that is slated to go on sale in late 2010.
That was the most shocking news of all. First, Chrysler has made almost no noise about work on electric cars. And in Detroit, the Big Three rarely hesitate to crow about green tech developments, not with Washington trying to strong arm them into higher fuel economy performance. Second, this is the company that’s still burning cash and losing money. Coming up with R&D dough for an electric car isn’t cheap.
Rubbish all of that. Chrysler says the company has been secretly working on electric drive systems since 2007. Chairman Robert Nardelli, formerly of Home Depot and General Electric, says one is on the way. A source close to the company says Chrysler has even cut a deal with GE to get electric motors. The company has also been working with suppliers to develop the needed technology.
Chrysler has worked with English carmaker Lotus to develop a two-seat electric car based on the company’s Europa sports car for Dodge. Even though Lotus helped Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors develop its electric roadster, Chrysler says it won’t be getting batteries from Tesla. The other two concepts Chrysler showed the dealers were the four-door Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler’s Town & Country minivan. Those two concept cars would run like the Chevy Volt, going 40 miles on electric drive before a gasoline engine starts up to recharge the battery. A Chrysler spokesman says that, even though Chrysler uses a GM hybrid system in the Dodge Durango suv, the company will not use the Volt system. Nissan is a possible partner. The two already have several deals to work together and Nissan is developing its own electric car for the end of the decade.
If Chrysler can pull this off, it will be a bolt from the blue. It would be surprising given the cutbacks and cash constraints. Not to mention the incredible amount of development work needed to mate one company’s engine with batteries, an electric motor and power controls of its suppliers. Don’t forget crash testing on these babies, either. The optimist in me says that Chrysler has always been innovative. It has come up with some of the best designs and breakthrough products over the past 20 years. Maybe the smallest of the shrinking three can do it. The pessimist says Chrysler has never been a green leader and its resources are too thin to get it done. This isn’t just a matter of coming up with a 7-speed transmission. At the least, Chrysler will now have access to some of the $25 billion in loans that the federal government just made available to carmakers. There’s the cash. Now we’ll see if they have the expertise to build the car.