In the leadup to its bailouts and bankruptcy, Chrysler seemed to have suddenly gotten religion about zero-emissions technology, parading around several ENVI electric vehicle prototypes. By the time Fiat had cleared the cobwebs from new product development in Auburn Hills, the EV vaporware had faded into nothingness. With the need to impress politicians ostensibly in Chrysler’s past, the ENVI program was rolled into Chrysler’s normal product development process, and we no longer had to choke back laughter at the idea that Chrysler would replace its unloved Sebring with the pure-electric 200C concept. Chrysler’s embarrassing Two-Mode hybrids were also hidden from view, with only a vague indication that a hybrid Ram might someday become available. When we talked to Ram CEO Fred Diaz at last November’s Five Year Plan announcement, he said that a hybrid Ram was still being considered. Now, egmcartech reports that the Ram hybrid is dead from a commercial standpoint, and that the program will turn into a plug-in hybrid test fleet for Chrysler’s best partner: The Department of Energy, which gave the form $48m to develop a fleet of 140 plug-in Rams. But don’t worry consumers, there’s an alt-energy Chrysler in your future… sort of.
Though the Ram Hybrid has reverted to its original purpose (convincing politicians their (our) money was well-spent on Chrysler), an electric version of the Fiat 500 has been approved for production, and will go on sale starting in 2011. The Freep reports that 500s built at Toluca, Mexico, will have A123 Systems lithium-ion battery packs installed at an undisclosed location, to create the Fiat 500 EV. Chrysler won’t reveal the 500 EV’s power, capacity or range, let alone its price point. Meanwhile, the 500 EV will come out after the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt start making inroads on America’s EV early adopters.
Needless to say, none of this is wildly encouraging. our interpretation has been that Chrysler avoided too much talk of alt-energy drivetrains because its core business is in such bad shape. Thus far, nothing has changed that conclusion. Chrysler will be releasing some 14 new or refreshed products in the next 12 months, and making those launches successful will require the full attention of Chrysler’s limited resources. A major component in those plans is the need to develop a Fiat 500 dealer network, and the 500 EV won’t be going anywhere until that has been resolved. And Chrysler’s relationship with its dealers still needs a lot of work before new franchises can be issued. If Chrysler does launch a number of halfway-respectable products next year, a niche EV isn’t a bad place for expansion, but it will be entering the market late and will be spearheading its efforts with an expensive little a car that will likely offer few advantages over a Smart EV.
It’s going to take a lot more than this announcement to make Chrysler believers out of us.