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Chrysler to electrify entire product line!

By Joe Romm

"Chrysler to electrify entire product line!"

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CNNMoney has the surprising story of “Chrysler’s plan to beat the Chevy Volt“:

Chrysler is pinning a huge part of its future on a plan to produce a full line of electric vehicles, at a reasonable cost to both the carmaker and the consumer….

Chrysler’s strategy hinges on keeping it cheap. The carmaker will dispense with flashy designs in exchange for low cost and flexibility. And it plans to pile on more electric-powered models quickly once the program launches in 2010.

“We aren’t a one-electric-vehicle company,” Lou Rhodes, Chrysler’s vice president for advanced vehicle engineering, told CNNMoney in an exclusive interview. Rhodes is also president of Chrysler’s ENVI, a separate business division tasked with bringing new electric vehicles to market.

Instead of making one, or just a few, electric-only models, Chrysler will sell the same models in both gasoline-powered and electric-powered versions. This low-cost, high-variety electric-vehicle strategy will play a big part in any comeback plan Chrysler may present in hopes of getting government rescue funding.

Wow. If this is really true, if Chrysler will spell this out in the spring for the government as part of a full bailout plan, then the company certainly should be given a chance to put this strategy into place.

Unless this downturn turns into a global recession, gasoline prices should be returning to record levels by the end of 2010 — and breaking records a few years after that.

Here are more details of Chrysler’s electrifying strategy:

Chrysler’s strategy substantially cuts costs, Rhodes said, and it reduces the risk of entering uncharted market territory. That will translate into lower costs and more choices for customers.

If gas prices stay low, Chrysler factories will produce more gasoline powered models. If gas prices rise, factories can start rapidly turning out more electric cars since the models are essentially the same.

Chrysler’s first electric vehicles will be based on current vehicles. The carmaker hasn’t yet announced what the first model will be but, based on prototypes Chrysler revealed in September, it will likely be a minivan, a Jeep Wrangler 4X4 or a 2-seat sports car built in a Lotus body.

At least some of Chrysler’s products will be extended-range electric vehicles, like GM’s Volt. Because the car’s body will not have been designed around optimal weight and aerodynamics, the Chrysler vehicle will need a more powerful electric drive system to provide performance similar to the Volt’s. For instance, Chrysler promises the same 40-mile all-electric plug-in range as the Volt. (After that, a small gasoline engine will start up to produce more electricity as the car drives.) But the heavier Jeep prototype has a 27-kilowatt-hour (KwH) battery back compared to the Volt’s 16 KwH pack.

Round two

Chrysler’s second-generation electric vehicles, which the carmaker plans to start rolling out between 2012 and 2015, will be engineered from the wheels up to use either gasoline or electric power.

No matter which drivetrain the customer chooses, the vehicles will not be compromised, Rhodes insists.

“If you know what you want to achieve up front, you can certainly design that flexibility in up front,” he said.

Electric cars will not have useless transmission tunnels running along the center of the floor, he said. If a rear-wheel-drive gasoline car needs that, a different floor will be used when that version is built.

The electric power systems are also being engineered for maximum flexibility, Rhodes said. Bigger, heavier vehicles take more power to move, whether that power is from gasoline or batteries. For gasoline-powered cars, engineers have to design larger and smaller engines for different uses. A small Jeep Compass, for instance, gets a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine while a Jeep Commander SUV can come equipped with a 5.7-liter V8 engine.

But what if going to a larger engine was as simple as just plugging in more cylinders? Chrysler’s electric drivetrains will work something like that. To hold more battery power, larger vehicles will simply get more battery cells. The cells themselves will be exactly the same whether in large or small vehicles. That’s important because batteries are the biggest expense of creating an electric car.

“The real economy is in the cells,” said Rhodes.

Likewise, the electric motor will be the same. It will just be up-sized for bigger jobs.

“All we change is the length of the rotor and the number of windings to span between different power outputs,” Rhodes said.

Even the housing that goes around the motor will be same regardless of the size of the motor . The magnesium housing will be so lightweight that it simply won’t be worth the added cost of creating smaller housings for the downsized motors, Rhodes said.

Electric cars aren’t just a side-show or a public relations move for Chrysler, Rhodes insists, but a major strategic move. Through its GEM (Global Electric Motorcars) subsidiary, Chrysler already claims to be the largest seller of electric vehicles in the U.S. But those are so-called “Neighborhood Electric Vehicles,” ultra-light cars with a top speed limited to 25 miles per hour. Chrysler claims sales of 40,000 GEM cars over the last 10 years. With its new plan, Chrysler plans to produce over 500,000 electric vehicles by 2013.

“This is going to be a big deal for Chrysler,” he said.

This could be a big deal for the country if the company last long enough to put this strategy in place.

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13 Responses to Chrysler to electrify entire product line!

  1. roy says:

    Sounds great but too good to be true. Do they really believe they are that much more clever than the rest of the world? Just to make everything modular and assume you’ll be able to mix’n'match with a competitive price and performance sounds like more like a software delusion. I expect hardware folk to be more grounded.

    Where will the extra batteries go?
    How much cost is added by a componentized vehicle bottom?

    What about brakes vs regen system? Will those systems be swappable too?

    Great if I’m wrong, but to me this all smells like investor hype of the “don’t worry be happy” genre.

  2. Rick C says:

    I’ll believe it when I see it. As Ralph Nader states, for too long these auto companies have dangled the promise of the electric car in peoples’ faces since the 1939 World’s Fair only to pull it away.

    There was the 1966 Chevy Electrovan that GM powered with fuel cells. The fait, or ill-fated, GM EV-1 is well known by now. My favorite candidate, The Volt, is not assured to survive the recovery of GM even though GMs survival is linked to the electrification of cars.

    The only electric vehicle I recall Chrysler made was the GEM which is a glorified Golf Cart.

    Will they just be concept cars that we never get to buy? Will they be lease cars that Chrysler can take back in order for Chrysler to qualify for the low interest loans that the federal government is proposing. What will power these cars? Will it be fuel cells and not LiONs or NiMhs which would only be the price of an engine?

    I remain skeptical and history vindicates my position on this.

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    The car will never replace the horse.
    Man will never fly.
    Man will never go to the moon.
    The supply of Negative Normans will never dry up.

    Oh, wait a minute….

  4. Bullrinky.

    There’s no way in the world that they can electrify their product line by 2015, and engineering cars to support two radically different driveline options going to cost a fortune.

    I’d like this to be true, but it’s just not credible.

  5. Rick C says:

    This press ‘announcement’ by Chrysler to build electric cars reminds me of another press ‘announcement’ by Chrysler to build electric cars only 4 months ago in September. On September 25th Chrysler announced they were going to bring a few of 4 electric cars they were displaying to market. http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/news-chrysler-electric-cars.htm One of the cars looked like a space pod I saw in the 2001 remake of the movie Planet of the Apes! You gotta be kidding me! ;-)

    In the current press ‘announcement’ all three of those cars in the current announcement are heavy and that’s got to cut down significantly on range unless they load them down with LiONs. As I read the articles on Chrysler’s press ‘announcement’ it turns out they are going to put 26 KW/hrs worth of LiONs in the battery compartment. That’s a full 10 KW more than the Chevy Volt! If you thought the Volt’s projected $40,000.00 price tag was expensive with only a 16 KW/hr LiON battery pack just how expensive are these little gems, no pun intended, going to be?

  6. C Mann says:

    My response was similar. This should be filed under Humor.

  7. Russ says:

    Sounds like greenwashing under duress, to help get that mooching sack filled. We know damn well the Decrepit 3 want to build monster SUVs and only monster SUVs.

    Last I heard Ford was firing up F-150 production again, in response to declining gas prices. It’s congenital, incorrigible behavior, plain and simple, and they’re all like that.

    So far Cerberus itself, by not injecting cash into Chrysler, has implicitly said Chrysler can’t be saved and isn’t worth saving. That’s their own daddy saying that. So why should anyone gainsay them?

    I’ll believe in the sincerity and viability of this alleged electrification initiative when Cerberus does, when it signals it does by pumping in all the cash Chrysler says it needs.

  8. charlie says:

    Chrysler shouldn’t qualify for the TARP relief. They have another lender — Cerberus. This is an attempt to remind D in Congress that if you keep Chrysler alive through this year, they will get some electric cars. In another words, give them the DOE loan money.

    And like the Chinese car (BYD DM) I’m suspicious of the numbers — these sounds like ALL electric cars for the short term — with limits in range, huge battery backs and poor performance.

    I don’t blame any car company for making giant SUVs — I blame the idiot consumers who bought them. Some some woman idling for 30 minutes in a ford Expedition — really wanted to put a rock through her windshield.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Electrifying news.

    But it is indeed properly classified under humor.

  10. msn nickleri says:

    I don’t blame any car company for making giant SUVs — I blame the idiot consumers who bought them. Some some woman idling for 30 minutes in a ford Expedition — really wanted to put a rock through her windshield.

  11. Andy Frank says:

    Since I have built PHEV’s fron special ground ups to modifications of every class of vehicle built by the big three, I say it can be done as Lou Rhodes indicate. I have built 12 of these vehicles with an all electric range of 60 miles and then highway fuel economy of about 2X the conventionaal car. All the vehicles were built at the University and all of them were engineered by students and built by students. We have built Ford Taurus to a Chevy Suburban class of vehicle with 60 miles AER with Metal hydrid batteries with a 10% increase in weight. With Lithium these vehicles can come in with the same weight as the conventional car. To do this Lou will have to have new transmission technology but I have developed this over the years. Our latest vehicle with a mechanical CVT has a 40 mile AER.
    thus I think Lou has the right vision because I’ve done it already 12 times for all classes of cars built in Detroit!! The problem is getting the engineering done right and setting up the production line correctly. If Toyota can produce on the same line a pickup truck or a conpact car with a 5 minute change over then Detroit sure can do it. Let’s copy Japan for a change!

    Prof Andy Frank

  12. Hendo says:

    Well done Prof Andy, I hope there are more of you out there and that your work continues.

    Is Chryslerl greenwashing? I hope not. I think Chrysler, of the Three, is deepest in the brown stuff right now. They aren’t likely, in my view, to climb out by doing the same thing they (and the others) have always done. It really is time to bring the rabbits out of hats and in a wholehearted manner. And it sounds like that is the plan, so good for them.

    Missing from the debate seems to be reference to an electric car developed by GM some years back. Known as the “EV”, by all accounts it was a very impressive vehicle. An history of the car can be found in the DVD “Who Killed the Electric Car?” A couple of brief points: First, if GM’s EV was as good as it seemed to be, that technology should still be available, and to a greater or lesser extent, relevant to the electric vehicle future. Secondly, in the DVD, blame for the demise of the EV is partially laid on GM and Oil. There were several other parties, not the least being Joe Citizen, who probably did not know better at the time. Well now we are starting to know better, and President Obama has made it clear that we have individual responsibility to get up amd make the country grow again. Make the electric car work and you take a giant step to overcoming climate change issues, oil (energy) dependence, resource wars, food issues and more. Hell, if your tax dollar, via hand-outs to the car-makers brings that outcome, I say that is fantastic!

    There will be those who try to obstruct, and have done so successfully for 100 years. (Did you know that Edison and Henry Ford planned and built electric vehicles? Edison was even experimenting with Cadmium batteries – True!).

    Those powerful forces are still out there, but if you think that now is the right time to change you are in my view, absolutely right.