Chrysler Retools Its EV Program, Possibly For The Better

November 10, 2009

Last week, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne unveiled the company's five-year recovery plan. This week, we've received details about Chrysler's electric vehicle program, which has been given a fairly extreme makeover and a new direction.

Most notably, Chrysler's EV development initiative -- known as ENVI -- has been "absorbed into the normal vehicle development program", according to a Chrysler spokesperson. That doesn't mean that electric vehicles are off the proverbial table, however; as many or slightly more workers will be dedicated to EV programs, but in organizational terms, the ENVI team has been split and rolled into Chrysler's existing vehicle development and powertrain development pods.

While some have read this as the end of Chrysler's EV interests, it looks quite the opposite to us. The integration of ENVI into Chrysler's regular development chain signals an understanding that EV technology is crucial for the company's future and shouldn't be thought of as a side-project. Ideally, incorporating those engineers and product technicians into the regular development process will increase communication and collaboration and lead to faster deployment of EVs. In short, it appears that Chrysler is moving toward efficiency, away from divisiveness; EVs are becoming a more legitimate part of the Chrysler family, less a brood of redheaded stepchildren.

Two other bits of good news:

  • Chrysler is still on-target to release hybrid versions of the Dodge Ram pickup and a yet-to-be-named plug-in hybrid minivan over the next two years. Chrysler may be late to the hybrid game, but better late...
  • The company has scrapped plans to release the Dodge Circuit sportscar as its first BEV; instead Marchionne has given that honor to a commercial van modeled after the Fiat Doblo. It won't be as snazzy or exciting as the Circuit, and it won't make the Dodge brand any sportier, but switching to a commercial van -- perhaps something to compete with the upcoming Ford Transit Connect EV-- is a smart, sensible move that might actually result in sales.

Of course, Chrysler is far behind the curve on hybrids and EVs (case in point: General Motors made headlines yesterday with its plans to produce the critically acclaimed Cadillac Converj extended-range EV concept), but at least it's still in the game.

[DetNews]

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