Speculative concept cars with no clear production future were rare at this year’s life-is-serious Detroit show, but newly independent Chrysler unwrapped three of them, just like the good old days, one for each of its three marques, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.All three use electric propulsion, but despite the apparent relevance of this to an oil-scarce tomorrow, the ultra-speculative trio came across mostly as a declaration of defiance and independence from a brand new management with a lot to prove.The concepts — the Chrysler ecoVoyager, Jeep Renegade and Dodge ZEO — are meant to illustrate the new team’s view of the differing values of the three marques, but a certain lack of the polished finish that comes nowadays with the very best show cars makes it clear that Chrysler’s design resources are as threadbare as local experts say, and will need reinforcement.
Dodge ZEO: electric can still be sporty
Most successful is the Dodge ZEO (for Zero Emissions Operation), an ultra-low two-plus-two with four butterfly doors that is meant to show that electric cars can look sporty, not just practical. The car looks quite like a low, futuristic Mazda RX-8, and has a simple luxurious interior with switches and controls mounted either on its single-spoke steering wheel or its high, spin-like centre console. Occupants sit low in thin, well-shaped bucket seats. The ZEO sits on magnificent 23in wheels, and has a lithium ion battery pack nestling between the wheels at chassis height. It feeds an electric motor that sends 270bhp to the rear wheels and gives a 250-mile range. All-up weight is a reasonable 1200kg, and 0-60mph acceleration is estimated at under 6.0sec.
Chrysler ecoVoyager: elegant, spacious and zero-emissions
The Chrysler ecoVoyager is a five-door, pillarless, forward-control one-box saloon which aims at “elegant American design,” and uses the same 270bhp electric motor as the ZEO — with regenerative braking and a hydrogen fuel cell to extend its range to 300 miles — powering the rear wheels, and delivering performance nearly as brisk as the ZEO’s too. The doors, which lock front to rear on each side so there’s no need for a centre pillar, open through 90 degrees, and there’s a simple, airy and spacious interior which is claimed to deliver a travel experience on a par with a private jet.
Jeep Renegade: electric powered with a diesel back-up
The third concept, the Jeep Renegade, is the most predictable, a pastiche of the family design cues that started with the famous wartime off-roader, including round lights and a seven-slat vertical grille. Unfortunately for Jeep, it looked rather too much like a plastic beach buggy to have real presence on the show stand.The shallow, simple interior is built from simple, durable materials with many ultra-touch rubber components, and there’s space on the rear deck for two underwater scooters that underscore the fact that this car is aimed at adventurous, outdoor types. Power is via two of the ubiquitous 270bhp electric motors, one driving each axle (each with a locking diff); however, there's a 115bhp, 1.6-litre Bluetec diesel engine in the car as a generator for the motors if power in the battery pack runs out. The Renegade is forecast to do 90mph flat out, and to accelerate 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds, which seems slow, given its power.Chrysler’s concept trio add colour to this year’s Detroit Show, help flesh out the new management’s thinking about their three marques, and show that their eye is on economy. But they don’t tell us much that’s worth knowing about future production cars.