Sunday, February 10, 2008

U.S. Automakers Toy with Plug-In Concepts

Chrysler and GM are jockeying to introduce viable plug-in hybrid vehicles, convinced that the market is finally ready for a practical electric car. The versions appearing at auto shows may not be the same as the vehicles that actually reach production. A Gartner analyst quoted thinks that instead of making a true commitment to the technology, the automotive industry still seems to be dancing around the fringes.

The article, Chrysler rolls out three plug-in concept models, describes these latest concepts:

Chrysler's entries in the concept race are the Chrysler ecoVoyager, Dodge Zeo and Jeep Renegade. Officials say consumer demand isn't generated solely by technology. It also needs to come with distinctive designs - in other words, no one-size-fits all approach.

Frank Klegon, Chrysler's product development chief, said the Zeo concept, which is completely electric, is designed to maintain Dodge's tradition of performance. The ecoVoyager, coupled with a fuel cell, is meant to convey Chrysler's reputation as an "iconic American brand." And the Renegade, combined with a low-emission diesel engine, is envisioned as a vehicle that could "go anywhere" and "go green."
Still, he said, they are purely concepts with no production guarantees.

"With emerging technologies, you don't really know which one is going to be the right solution, or something else that leapfrogs in the meantime," he said. "That's one challenge for us as an industry and a company."

What will emerge from all the chatter is still unknown, but the automakers are at least trying to talk a good game.

Troy Clarke, GM's North American president, said the technological timing is right, and comes at the convergence of three trends: concern over climate change, the need for U.S. energy independence and the high costs of oil.

"You don't really need anybody to convince you that this is the right time to start doubling down on your bets with this type of technology," he said.