After staying mum about its plans to bring electric cars to the market, Chrysler said Tuesday it intends to introduce three electric models - with one of them scheduled to reach the North American market in 2010.
Chrysler is developing an all-electric Dodge sports car, a plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler and a plug-in hybrid Town & Country minivan.
The hybrids, which Chrysler calls "range-extended electric cars," are run by an electric motor and include a small gasoline engine that charges a battery that generates electricity to help power the motor. General Motors is using the same concept to engineer its Volt, which is due for market launch in 2010 (see Chevy Volt Cleared For 2010 Production).
Chrysler created its electric-car program just a year ago. The company showed off concept hybrid and all-electric cars, including a Dodge electric sports coupe, at the Detroit Auto Show in January, but had remained quiet about its production plans while its competitors touted their electric car models and launch schedules.
The carmaker's vice chairman and president, Tom LaSorda, ended a press conference by remarking that the public is likely to be surprised by the wide-ranging electric plan his company unveiled.
"It's a proud day for men and women here at Chrysler," LaSorda said. "Our dealers are excited about this."
Chrysler hasn't decided which of the three vehicles will arrive on the market first, as the decision will depend on the three models' development process, LaSorda said.
The company also hasn't settled on the pricing for the three models or where they will be produced. LaSorda declined to say how many electric vehicles the company plans to produce per year.
Asked about news reports that A123Systems might produce lithium-ion batteries for Chrysler, LaSorda said, "We have all the battery guys. We haven't selected a battery supplier yet."
A123Systems, a Watertown, Mass., startup, is developing lithium-ion batteries for GM's Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and for electric cars by Think Global of Norway (see A123Systems Files for $175M IPO).
Meanwhile, Chrysler announced a research project with General Electric to develop battery technology. Chrysler's executive vice president for product development, Frank Klegon, said the research is at an early stage and declined to say whether batteries from the project are expected to be ready in time for the first launch in two years.
Aside from the Dodge, the other two Chrysler electric cars will fit into de signs for already-established models.
That contrasts with GM's approach, as the company designed a brand-new model – or architecture – for its first plug-in hybrid, the Volt.
LaSorda said Chrysler decided against creating all-new architectures for its first three models – even though some say that approach could lead to much lighter and more fuel-efficient vehicles – in order to launch its new models quickly.
"Without spending the time to develop an all-new platform, we can spend the time on the propulsion system to match the vehicle with the right battery and motor efficiency," LaSorda said.
But he expects the Dodge design process to differ from the development of the two other models. Chrysler plans to work with Lotus Cars "a little bit" to build the sport car, he said.
"You might see some minor changes to the platform, depending on where we want to take the car in the future," LaSorda added.
LaSorda declined to say when the company would publicly unveil a concept car for any of the three models intended for production.
He added that Mercedes-Benz didn't contribute to the design and engineering of the three electric models. Mercedes' parent company, Daimler, sold Chrysler to Cerberus Capital Management in 2007.
In other news Tuesday, Chrysler said it plans to build six models of neighborhood electric cars aimed at tooling around university campuses, military bases and parks, for example. The newly named GreenEcoMobility, a company owned by Chrysler and formerly called Global Electric Motorcars, will produce the cars, which will have a top speed of 25 miles per hour. After staying mum about its plans to make electric cars, Chrysler said Tuesday it intends to introduce three electric models – with one of them scheduled to reach the North American market in 2010.