Monday, January 12, 2009

Chrysler shows off concept cars, battery powered vehicles


Chrysler President and Vice Chairman Jim Press, left, and Frank Klegon, Executive Vice President - Product Development, introduces Chrysler 200C EV concept car at the North American International Auto Show Sunday in Detroit.

DETROIT -- Chrysler LLC, the company with arguably the most to prove at this year's North American International Auto Show, unveiled some concept cars Sunday that it has no immediate plans to produce.
The highlight was the Chrysler 200C, an attractive luxury sedan featuring interior electronics that would let consumers search traffic cameras in real time to scope out upcoming intersections, let drivers download and buy music via the Internet and help users keep track of friends who might be nearby.

In other words, they showed off a classic concept car -- a vehicle loaded with features that are nowhere near ready for production and may never serve a practical purpose.

The company also showed off a handful of vehicles that it showed off at auto shows and press events last year. Plug-in hybrid versions of the Jeep Patriot sport utility vehicle, Chrysler Town & Country minivan, a Dodge two-seat sports car and the Jeep Wrangler were all on display. The vehicles are all set to get 40 miles of electric-only range from battery power before using small gasoline-powered motors.

But unlike General Motors, which has committed to building the Chevrolet Volt that promises similar performance numbers, Chrysler has yet to commit to actually building any of the Chrysler electric vehicles. Executives said it would produce an electric vehicle some time next year, but it hasn't said which one, when or if it will be a battery powered car or a plug-in hybrid.

Chrysler President Jim Press said the new vehicles show what the company plans to offer the American public in the future. He added that taxpayers and the company share a special bond now that Chrysler is holding $4 billion in emergency federal loans.

But the company did little to address concerns over its near-future product lineup. While its minivans and pickups have been well received, the company's mid-sized sedans don't sell well, its compact cars are larger and less fuel efficient than any of its competitors and it sells fewer cars in a year than its top competitors do in a month.

While officials clearly stated that the 200C was only a concept, they hinted that some version of it may be on the road sooner, rather than later. Unlike most concept cars, it looked like something that could be in a dealer showroom tomorrow, not a futuristic exercise in weird shapes and ugly styling.

Ralph Giles, Chrysler's lead North American designer, called the 200C "a concept that's heavily influenced by reality."

When asked during an interview following the show launch why the car did not feature a Jetson's-like exterior to go with its tech-heavy interior, Giles said the concept car was closer to a production model than most show cars, "and I'll leave it to you to decide if that means we want to build it soon."