Chrysler Gets On Board With Plug-Ins; Looks To Re-Start Electric Programs

4 years ago by Jay Cole 43

Chrysler's Legion Of Upcoming EVs Under The "ENVI" Banner Circa 2009

Chrysler’s Legion Of Upcoming EVs Under The “ENVI” Banner Circa 2009

It appears as though Chrysler has designs on re-starting their plug-in ambitions, as their corporate head-hunting site has put out the request to hire new engineers, according to their website ChryslerCareers.com as reported by the Automotive News.

This would mark the company’s second serious effort to get into the plug-in business; Fiat 500e notwithstanding.

Backstory on Chrysler’s Original Plug-In Dreams – ENVI

Chrysler's Original ENVI Lineup Up Consisted Of A 2 Seat Sports Car, A SUV And A Mini-Van

Chrysler’s Original ENVI Lineup Up Consisted Of A 2 Seat Sports Car, A SUV And A Mini-Van

Not so long ago, well actually an eternity ago in EV-years – almost 5 years, Chrysler was the envy (pun intended) of the plug-in vehicle community as their “ENVI” lineup of professionals seemingly churned out endless working plug-in prototypes, at least 4 of which wereproduction intended.

At the time I was writing at GM-Volt.com, and first speculated on the program’s death ahead of Fiat’s first ever “5 year plan” for the Pentastar brand.  It was also the first time in my career I found myself in the middle of a little media circus of people saying:

  • the program was actually still alive and we at GM-Volt.com were off base
  • or taking the opportunity to kick someone (Chrysler and EVs in general) who were down

It was kind of a lose-lose situation ultimately from our prospective of being EV-advocates,  but also not wanting to look foolishly in error either.

By mid 2009, Chrysler had plans for the Circuit EV (a 2 seat, all-electric sports car), a 40 mile extended range Jeep Patriot and a 40 mile extended range Town & Country van. Even a Jeep Wrangler and a concept sedan (200C) started to enter corporate plans.

Chrysler promised one of the models by 2010, with three more to follow by the end of 2012, and we have enjoyed all 4 of them thoroughly since they came to market so many years ago.

What Could Have Been: Dodge's Circuit EV With 200 Miles Of Range Might Have Offered Some High End Competition For Tesla

What Could Have Been: Dodge’s Circuit EV With 200 Miles Of Range Might Have Offered Some High End Competition For Tesla

Unfortunately, the last anyone heard from the “ENVI” team was on their corporate blog (don’t click it – it’s long gone) on May 7th, 2009 – ironically the same day the company when bankrupt.

Once Fiat took over Chrysler and they were none to keen to continue the project, and no EVs from the project were heard from again.  On the prospect of electric vehicles, new Lord of Chrysler Sergio Marchionne said:

“I think electric vehicles are going to struggle,” and that perhaps they would only account for “1 to 2 percent” of Chrysler’s business by the middle of the next decade.”

And when you control the company, self-fulfilling prophecies like this are the easiest to fill.  Not too much later a Chrysler spokesperson officially ended Chrysler’s dreams of being the world’s plug-in leader, saying:

“ENVI is (being) absorbed into the normal vehicle development program”

We wrapped up the story, and never looked back.

Until now…

Only 132-Odd Plug-Ins (109 PHEV Ram Trucks & 23 Vans) Where Ultimatly Delivered By The ENVI Team - As Part Of A $123 Million Dollar DoE Program.  Some Of The Trucks (3) Caught Fire And Were Recalled Last Year

As Part Of A Separate $123 Million Dollar DoE Program 132 Plug-Ins (109 PHEV Ram Trucks & 23 Vans) Where Ultimatly Delivered By The ENVI Team –  Some Of Those Trucks (3) Caught Fire And Were Recalled Last Year

The Chrysler jobs site says they are now looking to develop both stop-start systems and electric vehicles, as well as seeking out engineers to work with suppliers on EV technology.

While Chrysler still doesn’t have any short-term projects on the horizon, powertrain spokesman Eric Mayne said to Automotive News that the job postings are consistent with future product plans.

“We’ve said all along that we’ll need electrification to comply with the  regulations going forward, and any hiring that we do on that front is consistent  with that plan.  The range of electrification technologies we’ve  said that we’ll adopt starts with start-stop and goes through EVs.”

The outlet concluded the postings “indicate Chrysler is actively planning plug-in hybrids, mild  hybrids and electric vehicles,” and from looking at them ourselves, we would tend to agree.

Now, about that 40 mile extended range van Chrysler?  …we have been waiting a really long time!

Automotive News (sub)

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43 responses to "Chrysler Gets On Board With Plug-Ins; Looks To Re-Start Electric Programs"

  1. Schmeltz says:

    Ahhh, those were the days. I remember those seemingly infinite amount of Chrysler plug-ins that were slated to come out. I mean, it was like if you can imagine it, Chrysler was going to do it with regards to plug-ins. A plug-in Jeep Wrangler, plug-in Town and Country minivan, sports car, you name it, and they would make a plug for it. I have to admit, I was slobbering over that Jeep Wrangler EREV at the time, (wipes tears), although I was skeptical that a brick like that could get 40 mile AER without breaking a sweat. I guess anything can do anything when they are nothing more than a digital file in a computer.

    As for today’s news, once bitten, twice shy. Show me, Chrysler.

    1. Aaron says:

      Those were all fully-functional vehicles at the time, too. Most likely, they ended up like other engineering studies I’ve seen on flatbeds — crushed — leaving the Chrysler Tech Center. While it broke my heart to see several crushed Vipers, I think seeing these vehicles crushed would upset me even more.

      1. Spec says:

        But they were just prototypes that would probably have been extremely expensive to build. Batteries are expensive so you can’t just throw batteries into existing car bodies and expect a good result. The cars do need to be aerodynamic and light-weight. So to do it on the cheap, some companies have picked the smallest car in their line-up, stuff it full of batteries, and then aerodynamically tweak it a little bit. And that way you get the Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, and the Honda Fit EV.

        1. Jay Cole says:

          A big part of US battery maker A123’s failure was the closure of Chrysler’s ENVI lineup, they were going to use the US startup’s cells right across the board. If ENVI stuck around and if GM had chose A123 for the Volt, the landscape would have been much different. (a lot of ifs in there I grant you)

          sidenote: and yes I do recall the welding error in Fisker cells provided by A123, but reasonable speaking under different circumstances that would never have happened in all liklihood

  2. kdawg says:

    An electric van would be very popular (lots of ppl I know have asked me about this).

    But of course they need to start with an electric version of the Dodge Charger 🙂

    1. Spec says:

      The Dodge Circuit is the name of that yellow sports car. I think it and the mini-van would have done well but Chrysler got cold feet.

    2. Rick Danger says:

      Google Dodge ZEO. That was going to be one of their EVs. What a halo car that would have been!

  3. Schmeltz says:

    So absolutely nothing came to market from that $123 million DOE program for the RAM PHEV and Minivan PHEV? What a waste…

    Maybe we can have a little tiny bit of faith with today’s news, but Chyrsler’s record is bad in the area. Really bad.

    1. Jay Cole says:

      We did a story on the program many, many moons ago, you can check it out here:

      (now with the right link – thanks schmeltz)
      http://insideevs.com/chrysler-pulls-plug-in-test-fleet-due-to-fires-battery-cell-upgrade-in-progress/

      ..probably should do a follow-up now we are talking about Chrysler again, (=

      1. Schmeltz says:

        I think that is the wrong link Jay…but I believe I remember the story you were referring too anyway. It’s just such a waste. They were given all of that money, and they produced some plug-in vehicles, ran them around the shop, parked them somewhere and went home. Never to be seen again. Just gave up on PHEV’s. I would think given this many years after the bankruptcy dust settled, they could produce at least one viable plug-in (something), whether pick-up, mini-van, sports car, whatever. Look at all of the different varying drivetrains in the pictures…you got one of everything really. I’m with you Jay in that they could’ve/should’ve done an EREV mini-van, and be on the front of that market. I know they have the Fiat 500 EV but they could’ve done so much more imho.

        1. Jay Cole says:

          Whoops, yupe…darn copy & paste. Note to self: do one thing at a time, lol

          1. Schmeltz says:

            Got it, thanks! Multi-tasking is mighty-confusing!

      2. Spec says:

        Holy smokes (pun intended), I did not hear about those fires. What kind of batteries were they? Does anyone know? Hopefully not the A123 batteries.

    2. Assaf says:

      The article already answered you: Chrysler went bankrupt and was taken over by an overtly anti-EV outfit.

      Luckily, around the same time GM also went bankrupt – and its new leadership is markedly more pro-EV than the one who drove GM off the cliff.

      1. Aaron says:

        GM’s EV1 notwithstanding.

  4. Mark C says:

    I don’t personally want a minivan, but I believe a 40 mile AER minivan would outsell the Volt hands down if the pricing were not out of line. Of course, I don’t have corporate research to back “my opinion” on. Your opinion may vary.

    1. Bonaire says:

      Minivan or CUV. Both types are huge in my suburban area. Around here, Honda Pilot and CR-V models are widely prevelant. Those two as EREV models would be welcome.

  5. Dan Frederiksen says:

    It’s 2013 and in their infinite wisdom they decide that maybe electric cars is something they should look at… genius.
    There was this revolution in 2006 but why should a major car maker pay attention to what’s going on in the car world. Let alone lead.
    You know how you can know that they are all idiots? not one of them have ever spoken to me. Never asked for input, never offered to hire me, not even replied to any comment on any forum and I have written many 🙂
    Not even to say that I’m wrong.
    How many autoexecs, autoengineers or designers have you seen comment anywhere?
    Even Tesla Motors don’t have people with ears to the world.
    Without exception they all have complete faith in their own decisions. Not one bothers looking around or engaging in dialogue just to make sure they are on solid ground.
    They are so busy in their own bubble that they never bother to navigate.

    One super obvious thing that they are all overlooking is aerodynamics.
    There is a certain amount of talk of lowering weight but they are not actually doing anything about that either. So that’s the 2 most obviously important engineering aspects for a car yet they are totally clueless. That shouldn’t be possible but it is.

    1. Aaron says:

      The Fiat 500e has significantly better aerodynamics than the ICE version, thank you. I personally know the team that worked on that. Chrysler has some very talented engineers in aerodynamics, and an amazingly advanced wind tunnel in the CTC.

      1. Dan Frederiksen says:

        And they make pigs fly. Speaking of which, perfume on a pig doesn’t really improve anything.
        There has never existed a Chrysler with even hints of aerodynamics.

      2. Spec says:

        It is better . . . but I don’t think I’d say it is ‘significantly’ better. There is only so much lipstick you can put on a pig.

    2. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

      It may still be regulation-driven because the CARB ZEV requirements will become tougher over time, but I think the combination of the Tesla effect, CA customers making the 500(complianc)e sell out faster than you can say prego and recent EV pushes (at least on PR) by GM and VW, simply forced Fiat-Chrysler to re-evaluate their position.

      I’m sure Fiat-Chrysler will still push diesel and maybe natural gas, but the industry’s getting scarily close to a big expansion of PEV, and PEV customers are largely not going to come back.

      1. Bill Howland says:

        Chrysler only gets Natural Gas by conversions…. Trying to buy an LNG car or truck is an experience unless you happen to want a honda Civic. And even honda doesn’t recommend you home fuel anymore. So the situation in some ways is worse than 10 years ago.

        I have 2 ev’s but I’m waiting for those $500 home refuelers (reliable hydralic units), that, since only the oil pump supposedly is going to go bad, you can fix it yourself. Right now, you have to spend around $5000 for a (what is now an Italian, used to be Canadian) Phill unit, that doesn’t last anywhere near as long as advertised and is expensive to rebuild. There is a outdoor mounted hydraulic unit for $6700 that is 3 times the speed of the Phill at 2 gallons of gasoline equivalent/hour that I’m tempted to purchase. But then there is the hastle of trying to find a decent Car to convert to Natural Gas.

        Funny Thing, you’d think that “Clean Cities” group, would at least have a passing interest in EV’s, but if you aren’t talking CNG, LNG, or Propane, they aren’t interested.,

        1. Sevie says:

          @Bill Howland
          I am confused by what appears to be a strong interest in CNG while posting elsewhere your efforts to halt Fracking that is causing contaminated or radioactive water. Why the desire to support an industry that you are simultaneously trying to fight?
          http://insideevs.com/video-natural-gas-advocate-t-boone-pickens-supports-electric-vehicles/

          1. Bill Howland says:

            No conflict at all here.[

            They’ll be shutting down the local coal plants here next year, and converting the newer one to natural gas. An EV will be then really using natural gas to power it. (My utility actually gets very little juice from the hydropower right next door in Niagara Falls).

            Also, from a selfish point of view, EV’s cost 1/3 the amount to refuel that gasoline does, but natural gas is currently under 1/4 the cost of the electric to my house. Unfortunately, until someone comes out with an engine powered compressor, the electric used by it negates some of the economic advantage.

            I’m not against the natural gas industry as such, i’m just dead set against horizontal hydrofracking since it ruins communities and causes earth quakes when they try reinjecting the waste water.

            Plus I like fooling with new gadgets and don’t want to support Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. That’s why I own 2 ev’s in the first place.

            1. Bill Howland says:

              Also, I should mention I live in a cold climate. My Tesla Roadster is not too bad with battery usage in the winter time (it only draws as much juice as the drive motor), but then the Roadster is by far the SMALLEST car in existance. Some go-carts are bigger than it.

              My Volt on the other hand (merely a compact) goes from 45 miles per charge in the spring and fall to 6 miles per charge in stop and go winter traffic. So it goes from being 1/3 the operating cost to 3 times the operating cost.

              A CNG car running its heater at full blast would therefore have a whopping 12 times advantage in operating cost over the volt. (Plus, about 1/8 the added Natural gas usage because every Centum Cubic Foot used by my future CNG vehicle to run the heater (free heat, just as in a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle), compared to the Volt’s use of 8 CCF of additional natural gas at the power plant (Yes I’m figuring in the greatly added efficiency of the central power plant. Unfortunately, we don’t have a Steam Distribution system in the area of the plants, and no ‘cogeneration’ provisions either, so the ‘waste’ heat will be truly wasted with proposed coal to Nat Gas conversion.).

  6. Spec says:

    NelsonHaHa.gif

    Sergio dissed EVs and now with his tail between his legs is being directed by the market to move into the fast-growing sector.

  7. Spec says:

    They really screwed up. A really fast 2-seater sports car that was much less expensive than the Tesla Roadster definitely could have sold and been a halo car. And a 40-mile electric range PHEV mini-van definitely would have sold a few.

    1. Bonaire says:

      Viper, all electric would be cool. 100 miles of 500 horsepower tire shredding action. Well, leave the tire shredding to Tesla, but an electric viper could be fun.

  8. Dave Erb says:

    Just for the record, Chrysler’s benighted approach to EVs didn’t start with Fiat.

    Back in 1991, Ford, SAE, and USDoE put out an RFP for a student contest called HEV Challenge. University teams would build PHEVs with a target ZEV range of 40 miles. (Sound familiar, Volt fans?) Eighteen teams were given Escort wagons to convert; twelve others got $10,000 seed money for their “ground-up” designs. The first contest took place in Dearborn in 1993. My students at Weber State (Escort class) got second place instead of the first place they deserved, but the University of Alberta were gracious winners.

    For 1994, twelve additional teams converted Saturn sedans, and the contest was hosted by GM at Lawrence Tech. Weber State got the first place trophy that Alberta deserved. The good Lord moves in mysterious ways.

    Twelve Neons joined the party for 1995. As our host, Chrysler’s President (and heir apparent for Chairman in those pre-Daimler days) “welcomed” 1000-plus students to Auburn Hills with a highly offensive 20 minute harangue, growling that greenie-weenie BS like hybrids might be fine within the ivory towers of academia, but had no future in the “real world.”

    That executive’s name? Bob Lutz. Watching his cynical attempts to re-brand himself as the “father of the PHEV” has been some of the sweetest revenge I’ve ever tasted.

    1. Spec says:

      Bob Lutz actually is sincerely interested in battery powered cars. He was the CEO of Exide at one point and you can read his passionate defense of the Volt in a series of articles at Forbes.

      1. Jeff D says:

        Bob Lutz plays both sides very well depending on how he feels that day.

  9. Wallace says:

    How about an ultra modern 2015 Barracuda EV? I saw pictures of a future Barracuda and it is awesome. Make it an EV and it is mine.

  10. Brian says:

    Chrysler gave us the first minivan. Now give us the first with a plug. It will sell and they know it.

    1. Dana says:

      You are absolutely right!!. I have had three Chrysler minivans. and have a Chevy Volt now. If there was a plug-in Chrysler minivan I would buy it in a heartbeat.

  11. Spec says:

    I wonder if the super-fast sell-out of the Fiat 500e has changed Chrysler’s view of EVs? I’m sure they are still losing money on it but that experience may have made them realize that people do want EVs and that it will be a growing market segment that they can’t ignore if they want to be a big car company.

    1. Eletruk says:

      Of course only having 500 units to lease makes a sellout all that much easier. Having the price at $199 (even though nobody could actually get that price) made it competitive with the gas version. Hopefully the fact they sold all 500 in about a week will make them rethink their quantities. Most car manufacturers are leery about putting out an EV because they figure the quantities will be low (like the Ford Focus EV). Unfortunately what it take to sells a lot of EVs is they have to be priced the same as a gas car (or be a totally awesome car like the Model-S).

  12. Jeff U says:

    Help Wanted: Young highly motivated automotive electrical engineer with knowledge of ZEV regulations. Must know how to improvise and compromise to bring some kind of electric thing to market quickly before we break the bank buying ZEV credits from Tesla.

    1. … and buying CARB-ZEV credits from competitor Nissan, too.

  13. I don’t want to tamper much the enthousiasm of the OP article, but I took the time to scan through the 133 engineering jobs, and I did not saw one related to specifically a plug in vehicle: no jobs for battery pack design, thermal management, charging circuits, or anything much specific to EVs.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but to me, those jobs are for developping new “conventionnal ICE” products.

      1. Jay, you are perfectly right, and I stand corrected. Thank you for giving me the proper links to the EV development jobs.
        I find this news very positive. This would eventually mean more EV offerings on the market, and on a vehicle types (minivans, SUVs) that gobs lots of fuel.
        As an actual owner of a 2010 Grand Caravan, and a 2011 Volt, I would certainly replace the ICE driven Van by an EREV one in a heartbeat.

        1. Jay Cole says:

          No worries…you need to have some kind of professional degree to sort through Chrysler’s job listings…maybe they really don’t want anyone after all, lol.

          I actually spent a good 10 minutes or so myself just trying to ferret one or two out before I wrote the piece.