Chrysler's volt, er, bolt from the blue

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.

Reader Comments

Rich

September 26, 2008 9:08 PM

Maybe Chrysler has another surprise: better resources than it appears they have.

Snoz

September 27, 2008 4:31 AM

You won't have to wait to 2010 to find out whether Chrysler will have an electric-hybrid car. At the present rate of money hemorrhrage Chrysler will be DOA by the end of 2009 unless Uncle Sam provides the $25billions worth of auto loan. Like a former used car salesman, Nardelli excels in blowing smoke. Because of Nardelli's impeccable sincerely, Chrysler will never gain market share. This is the guy who came up with the gimmicky $2.99 gasoline for two year scheme. While Chrysler at one time was the innovative leader of auto technology, that era ended with the Beancounter Townsend CEO in about the 1985. Since then, Chrysler has done absolutely nothing in technological arena aside from new sheet metal and marketing. It is pathetic that Chrysler continues to brag its obsolete Hemi engine of the '60s with OHV, without VVT or multivalves per cylinder. But then again, Nardelli wouldn't know the difference between a car's rear end differential and his own fat rear end. Under the best scenario, the only way Chrysler can manufacture an electric-hybrid on time to compete with GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan is borrowing technology from other technology makers. Cerberus has lost too much money on the GMAC mortgage deal due to the real estate bust and is not about to sink more money on a dying company. A realistic scenario: Chrysler will be sold by 2010.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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