Chrysler plans to shock industry, sell electric car in 2010

— -- Chrysler unveiled three electric vehicles today, one of which will be ready for sale by the end of 2010, a top company executive said, in what he expects will be "shocks to the industry."

The Auburn Hills automaker is working on range-extended electric-drive versions of its Chrysler Town & Country minivan and four-door Jeep Wrangler SUV as well as an all-electric Dodge sports car, Tom LaSorda, a Chrysler president and vice chairman, told the Free Press.

Chrysler company GreenEcoMobility, which makes and markets neighborhood electric vehicles, also showed its next-generation model, the 2009 GEM Peapod. It goes into production next year.

GEM neighborhood electric vehicles have a top speed of 25 mph, a range of up to 30 miles per charge and are street legal in more than 40 states.

Today's announcement propels Chrysler into competition with General Motors' gm highly publicized Chevrolet Volt, an extended-range electric vehicle that's slated to hit the market in late 2010, if GM and its partners can develop needed battery technology.

Chrysler's announcement is also sure to electrify the automaker itself, which in the past year has undergone dramatic changes as the company not only dealt with going private but also with the transforming U.S. auto industry.

Chrysler's image as a seller of pickups and SUVs has not meshed well with a buying public that wants more fuel-efficient cars. The automaker's sales are down more than 20% so far this year — about twice the decline of the industry as a whole.

While Chrysler hinted at future electric cars during the Detroit auto show last January, many analysts had believed the automaker's immediate-future prospects looked bleak.

Some Chrysler dealers earlier this year even quietly complained to the Free Press over their concerns that Chrysler wasn't moving quickly enough into electric vehicles, especially as GM generated ample press coverage for its Volt, a car first unveiled in 2007.

But one of the biggest secrets in Auburn Hills has been brewing for about 20 months, LaSorda said. "The teams have been working on it for some time. We've had these products in the pipeline," he said.

Chrysler's strategy is two-fold and dramatically different from GM's approach of developing one new electric vehicle with an extended range.

"We said we'll take something more bold on the electric — all electric," LaSorda said. "On the range-extended, we didn't want to spend the time on developing an all-new platform, an all-new car and then an all-new propulsion system. We said we've got two icons for our company, a Wrangler, which is the icon for the Jeep brand, and the minivan, there's 11 million-plus which we've sold. And people would say, 'My god, they brought green to a minivan and Wrangler, this is unbelievable."

LaSorda said the Dodge sports car, which hasn't been named yet, runs only on electricity from advanced battery technology and has a range from 150 to 200 miles. It will go from zero to 60 in under five seconds, he added. "It's a great tribute to Chrysler engineers."

The vehicle would plug into a typical 110-volt electric outlet and its lithium-ion batteries would be recharged within six to eights hours, Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president for product development, said. A 220-volt outlet could be used to cut the charging time in half.

"We will have partnerships on the batteries," Klegon said. "We're working with more than one potential supplier on the battery side now."

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Chrysler is in advanced talks with A123 Systems, a potential supplier to GM's Volt project.

The range-extended vehicles, which are in the same vein of development as GM's Volt, would run on electricity but would have a back-up gasoline-burning motor to generate electricity once the battery charge runs out.

Klegon said both the Jeep and minivan range-extended vehicles would be able to drive 40 miles on a single battery charge before the generator kicks in, giving the vehicle 400 miles of total range.

Chrysler thinks nature enthusiasts, who already enjoy the Jeep Wrangler for its off-road capabilities, will latch on to an electric-drive version.

"You can roam the planet and take care of it at the same time, that's kind of the theme we're building around this whole thing," LaSorda said.

Chrysler's in-floor storage system makes a good spot for an electric-drive vehicle's batteries, he said.

One of the vehicles will be produced for North American customers by the end of 2010 and in Europe shortly after, LaSorda said.