Chrysler LLC is taking giant leaps forward in its mission to catch up in the race to make the car environmentally sustainable. Having only just brought its first hybrid vehicles to market, it’s now forging ahead with range extended electric vehicles, and we’re about to see its very first.The group will show three new examples of these battery cars as concepts at the Detroit show in January; they will be the Chrysler EcoVoyager, Dodge Zeo, and Jeep Renegade. All three concepts use lithium ion batteries as a primary power source. The Dodge Zeo runs on battery power alone, in fact, and is good for 250-miles between charges; the Chrysler EcoVoyager runs a hydrogen fuel cell as a back-up to the battery pack; the Jeep Renegade, finally, has a small diesel engine to add to the car’s operating range.If all this sounds strangely familiar, it’s because this is exactly the position that both General Motors and Ford were in 12 months ago – both were preparing to show plug-in hybrid cars at the Detroit show.GM’s system is called E-Flex and has brought us hydrogen-, petrol- and diesel-electric cars already; Ford’s version is known as HySeries, and has featured in the Airstream concept and the Ford Edge SUV.Ford has yet to show a plug-in hybrid backed up by a conventional combustion engine, but all the same, Chrysler LLC’s got a lot of ground to make up. That’s why it’s about to show these first takes on the options for the electric car of tomorrow.
The Chrysler EcoVoyager
The first of them is, as Chrysler puts it, “an elegant one-box design that celebrates the romance of automobile travel in a four-door, distinctively American design.” In other words, the Chrysler EcoVoyager is a kind of zero-emissions Pacifica crossover estate car for the 21st century.Although the EcoVoyager has a one-box body and borrows the brand’s big MPV name, it’s only a four-seater. Its cabin-forward, short-nosed appearance is a response to the fact that the car’s entire fuel cell and battery powertrain is packaged under the floor, and so almost all of the space above can be used for passengers and luggage. “It’s been designed for customers seeking elegance, simplicity and serenity,” says Chrysler design boss Trevor Creed.The EcoVoyager is 4856mm long, 1915mm wide and 1600mm high, and its total range, on battery- and hydrogen-power combined, is just over 300 miles.
The Dodge Zeo
The Dodge Zeo is Chysler’s vision for “a youthful, all-electric, 21st century muscle car.” It’s smaller than the EcoVoyager; at 4390mm long it’s roughly Focus-sized, but it’s much lower than a traditional hatchback, and features a 2+2 seating arrangement, flared arches and a squared-off, sportback-style rear end.From a propulsive perspective, the Zeo is the most interesting concept of the three. It runs on battery power alone, having no combustion engine or fuel cell back-up at all, and yet is capable of accelerating from 0-60mph in less than 8.0 seconds and putting 250-miles between charges.The characteristics of the Zeo’s electric motors would give it fantastic acceleration from a standstill, since electric motors generate maximum torque at zero rpm. However, a battery application like this one requires significant development of the technology, and extensive cooling to the batteries themselves, as pioneering outfit Tesla is currently discovering.
The Jeep Renegade
The smallest of Chrysler’s trio of Detroit EVs will be the Jeep Renegade, a supermini-sized 4x4 with a 40-mile lithium ion battery pack and a small-displacement Bluetec diesel engine. The Renegade is a strict two-seater with offroading ability that would please Jeep’s traditional customer base. It’s designed for “the all-weather delights of off-roading and dune surfing,” says Chrysler, and features a cut-down windscreen, a rollover bar, openings in the lower doors and an interior designed to be washed out with a garden hose.Chrysler has yet to say exactly what kind of diesel engine will power it in tandem with the batteries, but whatever it is, it must be frugal; the Renegade’s capable of more than 110mpg, says its maker.