Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Jan 29, 2009

    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.

  • Martin Schwoerer Martin Schwoerer on Jan 30, 2009

    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.

  • TheEndlessEnigma Simply put, I like it.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Ah GM, never stop being you. GM is working hard to make FIAT look good.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Top Gear of the 2000's was a fresh concept and very well done. Sadly to say there isn't a TV show concept that doesn't eventually exhaust fresh ideas and, as a result, begins to rehash and wear out once were fresh ideas. The show eventually becomes a pale imitation of itself, then begins to embarrass itself, it will get to a point where it jumps the shark. Top Gear began to get stale, the Clarkson, Hammond and May left and the formula failed - surprise! the presenters were part of the magic. Fast forward many years and Grand Tower is trying hard to be Top Gear but it's all very obviously scripted (it always was by felt spontaneous in its original form), Clarkson, Hammond and May are much older, tired and have become caricatures of themselves. Guys, just stop. You should have stopped 10 years ago. Now you're just screwing with your reputations and legacies.
  • FreedMike Kudos to Toyota for making a legitimately slick looking piece (particularly in metallic cherry red). But PHEVs seem like a very narrow niche to me. Yes, the concept is cool - if you play your cards right you never have to fill up with gas, and the gas engine means you don't have to worry about charging facilities - but the operative words are "if you play your cards right." And PHEVs have all the drawbacks of EVs - spotty charging availability, decreased range in cold conditions, and higher price. Personally, I'd opt for a non plug-in Prius and use the plug-in money to upgrade the trim level. It's slower, but even the base Prius performs roughly on par with a Corolla or Civic, so it's not a dog anymore. But who buys a Prius to go fast in the first place? If I wanted to "go gas free," I'd just buy a BEV. YMMV, of course.
  • Analoggrotto Anyone seeking benchmark affluence will get the EV9 by Kia the most cutting edge electric vehicle on the market bar none.