By on January 28, 2009

OK, so I linked to this in the post below, but it really deserves its own post. After all, few things define the times quite as poignantly as Chrysler’s peculiar brand of insanity. See, the problem with the psychology of recession is that it causes inordinate self-doubt among panicked executives and their long-suffering staffs. Which, if you’re Chrysler, might be a good thing. Except that for some reason, the principles of reflection and continuous improvement always take a back seat to some brainiac who thinks that the problem is that the firms products aren’t exactly like iPods. At Chrysler, this brainiac is named Peter Arnell. In an interview with AdWeek, Chrysler’s “Chief Innovation Officer” lives up to his cliched title by spewing the most ridiculous twaddle about his pet project, the Chrysler PeaPod. For those who don’t know, the PeaPod is a GEM Low Speed (Neighborhood Electric) Vehicle (LSV/NEV). This means that the PeaPod is limited to 25 mph and is barred from thoroughfares with speed limits of higher than 35 mph. In other words, it’s useless. Unless you live on a golf course or in a gated retirement community. But the way Arnell tells it, the PeaPod is just a Wired Magazine cover away from becoming the next Apple killer app.

“The idea is it’s a lightweight vehicle with a top speed of 25 mph. Ninety percent core city driving previously was made by conventional cars or SUVs, and the idea is to replace that activity with low-speed vehicles. The Peapod [NEV's] travel range is 30 miles and it has a strong payload, over 900 pounds. It has rack and pinion steering, front-wheel drive, runs off 72-volt batteries, has an on board charger and gives off zero emissions. And at $12,500, it makes for a great second car,” reckons Arnell. Because in this economy, you can’t afford not to have a second car. But it gets worse.

“You know how the Beetle was the vehicle of choice for the whole ’60s, the hippie revolution and everything? We’re hoping that this becomes the new wave car for the younger set as well as addressing mom and her needs with her kids. It has a lot of talk value and appeal. It’s giving a new language to vehicle design,” says Arnell. “It’s got a really jovial, happy-spirited look. It has a good attitude.” “New wave car for the younger set?” What is this, 1963? “Talk value?” Please. Just because there’s no Chrysler co-branding and you are “launching” PeaPod Mobility on Earth Day doesn’t mean “the younger set” is going to drop $12k on a glorified golf cart.

“Because of the power of the program, we’ve decided to [brand the category]. You know how in the old days they came up with SUV as a classification? We’ve come up with the word ‘mobi’ because this category is not known to most people.

“Between the new administration, the economy, the concerns on global warming and the general attitude about the automotive industry and the need to innovate, this was one of the core assignments given to me by [Chrysler CEO] Bob Nardelli and [vice chairman] Tom LaSorda. The idea was to hold a mirror up to consumers’ needs and desires and rethink the role a vehicle plays in one’s life.

“Where you saw Smart [Car], it implied ecology or efficiency in gas consumption, but it still remained a regular car. The idea here was to move beyond that.”

By selling something that isn’t a regular car? If there’s a better example of branding run amok in the automotive world, I’m not aware of it. Either way, be ready to watch PeaPod Mobility go the way of Napster sometime shortly after Earth Day.

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43 Comments on “iWouldn’t...”


  • avatar
    Mike the loser

    Is that Kevin Eubanks from the Tonoght’s show?

  • avatar
    TEW

    Finally someone is making the Chevron cars. Seriously do they think this will sell?

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    As soon as I got my license all I could think is damn I can’t wait to drive a 25 mph limited golf cart.

    Because of the 25 mph limit and limited road usage these things go through a loophole in the NHTSA safety regulations.

    Therefore, if driving around in 25 mph golf carts ever takes off expect them to be made in China and sold at Costco for $1,500 to $2,000.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Today is Jan. 28 not April 1st. Unbelieveable. These people have to be throwing the fight, there is no other sane explanation.

  • avatar
    ermalm

    TEW:

    Note: Their customer is the Federal Government. It don’t have to sell, just be appealing to the Greenies in D.C.

  • avatar
    pleiter

    Is that a banana in your cranium, or are you happy to see me ?

  • avatar
    jet_silver

    …it causes inordinate self-doubt among panicked executives…

    What is inordinate about it? Instead, perhaps you’d get nearer the truth by saying “causes an entirely justified self-doubt…” These guys have a reality distortion field that would make Steve Jobs envious; the problem is, they are caught up in it as well.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    They should have put this in Paul Blart: Mall Cop for some free publicity. Perfect for indoor patrols, with twice the top speed of a Segway and capable of catching up with most perps.

  • avatar
    dimitris

    I see your PeaPod and I raise you a C5.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Give me another 15mph and this would be perfect for me. Range is no problem.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I liked the article better when you called the douchebag a douchebag.

  • avatar

    Detroit-Iron :

    My edit. There are limits. Out there. Somewhere.

  • avatar
    Tommy

    Limits? When you’re up against this kind of crazy? No way, RF.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I can get a heck of a velocar for the money this costs and be in better shape. I’d probably go faster, too.

    Why do auto executives think things like this are good ideas? No one buys them (not even in ultradense urban markets), no one is clamouring for them, all previous attempts have been failures and a bicycle is a better choice for anyone who’s willing to make the compromises this requires. I don’t get it.

    The Smart, at least, is a real car. This, like the Segway, is the toy of someone so insulated from reality they can’t see (or their toadies are too cowardly to say) why it’s a bad idea

  • avatar

    Tommy:

    Editorially, Ted and I are of one mind: here at TTAC, hatred has to come from a place of love. IMHO, calling the guy a douchebag failed the love test. I’m sure Ted will understand.

  • avatar
    Tommy

    I’m a big fan of tough love – it shows you really care. And, seeing as we’re paying to keep the lights on at Chrysler, we really should care. I understand, too. :)

  • avatar
    autoemployeefornow

    Another useless product that will never sell in quantities to warrant that it should be produced.

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    Just the face on it says “yes I am a retard”

  • avatar

    I’d rather have one of those tacky golf carts with Hummer or Rolls Royce bodywork. I’ll bet they are faster, too.

  • avatar

    Give me a break, the front of that thing is ridiculous. Take that damn smiley off of there and name it something realistic. PeaPod. What drugs are these guys on and why can I have some.

  • avatar
    akear

    Why would I pay 12K for a glorified golf cart that has a face that looks like the evil clown in the SAW movies.
    This is an unsuccessful attempt to mesh Apple design into a car. Beside Apple products are well-proportioned and look original without being ridiculous.

    If it wasn’t so sad watching Chrysler go mad would be fun.

    This is the economy car Homer Simpson would design.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I could see the Beetle analogy if it went for $8,000.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Hey I WANT an EV but not one of these. I have driven a pair of GEMs and I can’t really see the point. Even in our small town the minimum speed limit is 30 mph. The only place I could operate on of these here is in a school zone…

    I’d rather have a vintage 40HP Beetle or 18 HP Fiat 500 and make 60 mph under the right conditions…

    Oh yeah – that thing is REALLY UGLY too…

  • avatar
    hazard

    It’s really nice research is going into these kind of cars, even if they end up dead-ends (although I’m convinced EVs are the future, eventually). What is not nice is its ugliness.

    But I question their assumptions. Let’s try to look at them logically rather than just bash-by-default.

    Ninety percent core city driving previously was made by conventional cars or SUVs, and the idea is to replace that activity with low-speed vehicles.

    That’s nice, and at first it makes sense. Hey, you’re just going to work or doing errands. Don’t need to haul stuff. You’re stuck in traffic anyway, and any speed above 50 km/h is a dream. You’re probably averaging something like 10-20 km/h. To boot, you can park this thing almost anywhere.

    That’s all great. It might work if you live in London or Paris, or maybe Manhattan. Most US cities are, unfortunately, a dowtown business core surrounded by suburbs/exurbs. Sure a lot of short range inner city driving gets done, but first the people doing it come in from their suburbs and exurbs via highway. What are they supposed to do, change cars when they enter the city.

    Now, even for people for whom it might work the big problem is the price. $12K for this? You joking?

    Think about it. Smarts, for example, sell pretty well in Canada. They are super-practical for city driving and have great fuel economy. Not to mention it’s a car that can go on the highway and get some decent range. It really is the perfect second car for commuting. But it’s still more or less relegated to expensive-toy-car status. Why? The price. At something like $20K (CDN) it’s way too expensive to make sense for most people. Why give $20K for a two-seater, when you can buy an Accent brand new for $9995? I’m sure that if the Smart retailed in the range between $5K and $10K, that it would be selling like crazy. My dad for example would buy it first, and commute to work with it instead of his van. The fuel economy (what is it like, like 3 L / 100 km?) would be enough to make people consider it as a commuter car, if it had the right price.

    For the same reason the Segway failed – too expensive. It was billed as a revolution in personal transport – but ended being just a nifty appliance for street policemen, mailmen and delivery companies (nothing wrong with that, of course). For these large organizations the cost-benefit analysis made sense. For the average person it did not.

    These alternative modes of transport are essentially equivalent to asking people to ride their bike to work. Many people do. The advantages are that it saves you money, often time, is good for the environment and provides exercise. The disadvantages are that it will not suit your needs almost, you might end up coming sweaty to work every day and would have to pack extra clothes, and that it might useless to you for half the year (rain, snow, etc.). But here’s the thing: I can get a solid new bike for a few hundred dollars. Heck, I can get one at a garage sale for $50. At that price, for many people, the advantages win.

    If you want me to run around in what esentially a 2-seated electric bike with a roof, it better have a price closer to that of a bike than that of a car.

    Without that, this thing (NEV) can maybe be a nifty appliance for FedEx, street cops or the postal service.

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    It looks like one the future-cars in the movie “Sleeper”. It was probably designed in a room with huge mag-tape machines too.

    /unabashed movie reference

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    iWould!

    Not in the U.S., though — only in the rest of the world. And here’s why.

    The rest of the world is quite different from the U.S. The rest of the world does not provide hand-outs to support home ownership. There is no Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in China. The rest of the world (Iran and a handful others excepted), does not tailor its public policy to make the conventional automobile super-affordable for everybody. The rest of the world is subject to a mega-trend: urbanization — the ubiquitous city lifestyle.

    What kind of car will work in the global city? With rather high likelihood, not our beloved BMWs. Why not short-term rentable, simple and tough vehicles like the Peapod? Why anything else, for that matter?

    Yeah, for commuters this kind of thing sucks. But for them it is not made. Commuters will just have to park their expensive and fast objects of desire at the city gates, and change into public transport, or bicycles, or (preferably) this kind of electric car. I really don’t see the problem, and I don’t understand the almost luddite dissing this kind of concept gets.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Point taken, even before somebody makes it: the Peapod is designed for the US market, not the global market, and there is no demand for this kind of vehicle in the US. Indeed. But how much did it cost to develop it? Is it really such a big waste of public money?

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    Hahahahahahaha, the grille design inspiration was a smiley face! The thing looks more stupid than the outgoing Prius, the Smart fortwo, and all the JDM Kei cars rolled into one!

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I liked Chrysler 20 years ago when they simply rebranded Mitsubishis, rather than had all these alliances with Daimler, Fiat, Nissan, VW, etc.

    This would work much better if it were an i-Miev (electric version of the Mitsubishi kei car) with a crosshair grill on the front.

    That thing got an electro-hemi?

  • avatar
    BenFarmer

    Mixed emotions on this one. Downside: (1) Price is ridiculous. At maybe $7000 it might find a niche. At $12,000 it almost certainly won’t. (2) Styling is bizarre. Upside: The 25 mph top speed is artificial–dictated by federal safety rules that prohibit the sale of vehicles in this class that can go faster than that. It’s apparently trivial (and apparently legal–though I would check before doing this) to mod most vehicles in this class to do 35 mph. At the right price a car like this could have several niches. I could see something like this being very useful on university campuses where distances are a little too far to walk, but well within the 30 mile range.

    If Chrysler went into say a couple dozen of the top sunbelt Universities and came up with fleet mass buys and student leasing plans I could see that working. They could build the support infrastructure locally (charging stations, mechanics that understand electric cars). The universities could encourage use of these things by designating special primo parking spaces for them (major benefit on a big university campus) and maybe charging less for parking if you use one. In return the Universities would get green credibility, maybe a profit from operating public charging stations, and maybe a little something extra for the science building from Chrysler.

    Get college kids used to seeing and riding these things and maybe they take the habit with them when they go out into the community. (Or maybe not)

    I could also see something like this working in areas with a high percentage of retired people. They could work on local governments to designate special “NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) lanes” on key artery roads. Then you get the little old ladies who want to go 25 into NEVs and driving in those lanes instead of in big boats in the regular lanes. Everyone is happier and safer that way.

    Once they have that infrastructure in enough places states could even issue NEV-only class driver’s licenses for seniors who would otherwise have to either give up their licenses or retain a full-fledged license that they really shouldn’t have anymore.

    This next bit is a stretch, but I could even see some states eventually raising the age for getting a real driver’s license to 18 and issuing NEV-only licenses to 16 and 17 year-olds. There are a LOT of 16-17 year olds who really shouldn’t be driving a riding lawn mower, much less a car. NEVs might give them a kind of half-way house if the infrastructure of special lanes on key streets was in place.

    Key thing with these things is batteries. If they use Lithium-Ion or NIMH the NEV gets too expensive for most of these uses. If they go Lead Acid, the batteries need replacing in two or three years. If Firefly gets their Oasis batteries in production on schedule and if they do hold up for the number of cycles they’re claiming, that might be an option.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    The big reason this won’t work is because everybody else on the road is still driving real cars, minivans, SUVs, garbage trucks, cement trucks and semi-tractor trailers. Even in town.

    So for most people, their “inner reptile” is going to go into “survival mode” and they’re not going to take a golf cart out on the road.

    There are plenty of electric vehicles that have been offered up over the years. Zenn in Canada offers a very nice looking one now. I live in a town that’s infested with vehicle-hating eco-weenies. I can’t throw a rock without hitting a Prius. And even though the Zenn is known here, none of the local eco-weenies have embraced it.

    It’s too small and has no range, even though they only drive a mile or two to the train station.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    For $1500 you can get a damn sweet stable push bike that will work just as well.

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    This is a great idea! Americans will flock to the PeaPod as a companion for their beloved Segways… Oh wait… Never mind.

  • avatar
    zenith

    Right now, you can pay approx $12-13K for a recently-discontinued PT Cruiser.

    The Cruiser is not best-in-class at anything, but it can top 60mph, carry more than 2 people,meet minimum safety standards, etc.

    Pity that the development cost of an electric toy didn’t go into improving the PT’s and Dodge Caliber’s fuel economies.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The big reason this won’t work is because everybody else on the road is still driving real cars, minivans, SUVs, garbage trucks, cement trucks and semi-tractor trailers. Even in town.

    I don’t think that’s the problem here. In-town traffic is generally not life-threatening.

    The problem is that this is an answer to a question no one is asking. This is an urban passenger vehicle, but there’s not a lot of need for something urban that carries two people and lots of cargo, but can’t keep up with in-town speed. It’s not a sweatless alternative to a bike, a four-wheel alternative to a motorcycle, or a more efficient parcel van.

    What we’re talking about an electric pony carriage. Slow, requiring a complete re-engineering of urban traffic, and not entirely efficient. You’d be smarter to install Jetson-style moving sidewalks.

  • avatar
    50merc

    “It has a lot of talk value”

    Laugh value, too. As in laugh at, not laugh with.

    BTW, Chrysler, an electric vehicle doesn’t need a grill. Because it doesn’t have a radiator. Because it’s, you know, electric. Hey, how about some cool-looking chrome dual “exhaust” pipes in the rear?

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Martin Schwoerer

    What kind of car will work in the global city? With rather high likelihood, not our beloved BMWs. Why not short-term rentable, simple and tough vehicles like the Peapod? Why anything else, for that matter?

    The Indians already make one – It’s even got an Apple reference in it – It’s called the Nano, and it sells for roughly $2,500 – not $12,000.

  • avatar
    RickCanadian

    Anybody knows how to apply for the job of Chief Innovation Officer at Chrysler? If as US taxpayers you have a say, vote for me!!!! I certainly can’t do a worst job than this guy, and would be a lot cheaper in bailout money.

  • avatar

    This is either funny or sad. Given the state of the economy, and the state of the US auto industry, to me it’s not a bit funny.

    Psarhjinian:
    The Smart, at least, is a real car. This, like the Segway, is the toy of someone so insulated from reality they can’t see (or their toadies are too cowardly to say) why it’s a bad idea

    What we’re talking about an electric pony carriage. Slow, requiring a complete re-engineering of urban traffic, and not entirely efficient. You’d be smarter to install Jetson-style moving sidewalks.

    Well said.

    As soon as we officially own Chrysler, we ought to fire this Peter Arnell character. Maybe he can go to work for Mattel or something.

  • avatar

    Martin Schwoerer
    Commuters will just have to park their expensive and fast objects of desire at the city gates, and change into public transport, or bicycles, or (preferably) this kind of electric car.

    In this European scenario, why not preferably a bicycle, Martin? For over a decade living in Wash. DC, the bicycle was my main means of transport, all year round. I averaged nearly 4k miles a year. Exercise and transportation at the same time. If a large fraction of the population did it–as they do in the Netherlands and Denmark from what I hear, and as they did in Paris when I lived there in the mid-60s–sweat and weather and extra clothes wouldn’t be so much of a problem.

  • avatar

    Martin Schwoerer
    Commuters will just have to park their expensive and fast objects of desire at the city gates, and change into public transport, or bicycles, or (preferably) this kind of electric car.

    In this European scenario, why not preferably a bicycle, Martin? For over a decade living in Wash. DC, the bicycle was my main means of transport, all year round. I averaged nearly 4k miles a year. Exercise and transportation at the same time. If a large fraction of the population did it–as they do in the Netherlands and Denmark from what I hear, and as they did in Paris when I lived there in the mid-60s–sweat and weather and extra clothes wouldn’t be so much of a problem. I mean if we’re going to wish, why don’t we wish for something that will reduce the carbon footprint and improve public health even more?

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Well, it wouldn’t work in Houston. This is one of the problems with national policies for transportation. We can only bicycle in the winter here, most of the rest of the year, you are sweating bullets by the time you get a single block. Fine for exercise, not so good for a salesman.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    David — as a matter of fact, I ride my bike every day. And things are constantly getting better for bicyclers in my neck of the woods. There is automatic short term rental of bicycles in Paris as well as in most German cities. In Copenhagen I hear that the majority of citizens uses a bike on a daily basis. In my town, on a bike you can ride against the direction of one-way roads, which greatly increases travel speed.

    But I think “bicycling for everybody” is not a reasonable public-policy aim. For many people (as has been stated above), bikes are not good when it rains, when it’s cold, or when it’s hot. Not to mention the old and the weak. Public transport has to be convenient if it’s to work well. An efficient system of e-cars would be great for everything within the city limits.

    You can probably tell, I’m a multi-mode person. When you rely 100% on cars, all you get is traffic jams and aggro. When you have some cars, some public transport, bicycles, motorcycles, and in addition rentable electric cars, then you have an efficient, flexible system that makes the city more livable. By the way, when you replace internal-combustion cars with slowish e-cars you make the city better for pedestrians, and walking is the most efficient mode of transport for semi-short distances, of course.


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