Who killed the Chrysler EV?

Let’s be honest. The last few years haven’t been good for the auto industry. What with the economic crash and the impending environmental doom caused by years of glutenous use of our natural resources, buying a fast, super-sleek sports-car hasn’t been at the top of most folk’s lists.  Heck, even buying a car of late has been a tough thing to accomplish. High purchase taxes on gas-guzzling models and cheaper, more fuel efficient models from overseas has meant that both the American and British car market has floundered badly. In the UK this has eradicated pretty much any trace of home-grown manufacture and in the States, the CEOs of some of the USA’s biggest and most known carmakers flew to Washington in private jets to ask the government for money.

One such company was Chrysler, who not that long ago, went to the White House to ask for a total of $12.5 billion in federal aid to help this dinosaur of the golden age of motoring move into the 21st century with more fuel efficient, home-grown models to woo the American buyer and save the economy.  And how just did Chrysler propose to throw off the shackles of eighty-four years of gas-guzzling excess? Why, with three new models, all powered by electricity. And a few hybrid models to boot, making Chrysler (the only major American auto company not to make a hybrid at the moment) part of the hybrid club.

It all looked great. In January at the Detroit Motor show, Chrysler boasted that it would have 500,000 battery powered vehicles on the road by 2013, including vans, trucks and sports-cars. Could the company who makes some of the biggest, most polluting cars actually turn into a green company, with fluffy bunnies on the fender and grass growing from the tailpipe? It seemed a possibility.  Then Chrysler went into chapter 11. They needed money fast, or a buyer. When Chrysler’s good assets were sold to Italian car company FIAT in June this year, it all started to fall into place. It looked like Fiat would pick up Chrysler’s bold EV programme and help the ailing star shine bright again with an exciting range of new EVs. The truth though, would be far more cruel.Fiat, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? Why cancel the ENVI programe?

Chrysler’s new owner, Fiat, took one look at the books and decided that something had to give. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne and his team of analysts found the Chrysler outfit in a much worse state than they’d first thought. In an attempt to keep both companies afloat, Marchionne and his board of directors started the meticulous cull of anything they didn’t like. Anything which they thought would cost them too much money.

First to go was the ENVI devision – a group set up by Chrysler to spearhead their new eco car development. Among the proposed new cars was the Dodge Circuit, a two-seater, pulse-rising sports car. But on Friday last week, Fiat Chrysler announced that the team of specialist engineers who headed the ENVI devision would be disbanded and absorbed into a more ‘traditional structure’ of corporate auto management. In other words, dumbed down. 

Worse still, Fiat’s CEO cited to Reuters on Friday that by 2014 there be at most, 1 or 2 percent of Chrysler’s vehicles running on electricity – a figure much smaller than the optimistic 500,000 estimate of earlier this year. Why did Marchionne feel that there would be less than 60,000 EVs on the road? Batteries. 

Yes, Batteries are the big bad wolf again. Marchionne stated that

“Until the (battery) storage gets resolved, I think electric vehicles are going to struggle”. 

Right. Batteries. We all know just how bad they are. I mean, electric cars can’t possibly go long distances can they? I mean, there’s no way that Simon Hackett, the geeky MD of Australian ISP Internode, could have possibly driven 313 miles in a production EV with no modifications on a single charge is there? The interview I carried out with Simon last week on the Evcast must have been a complete figment of my imagination. 

Before I die of sarcasm, perhaps Marchionne could read performance figures and range of a Tesla. Or some of the less sporty EVs out there. But arguing that battery tech isn’t here when trips like Simon’s make the news just isn’t right. It isn’t clever. It’s nothing more than a poor excuse. 

It wasn’t even as if the batteries that Chrysler were planning on using weren’t up to the task; They were planning on using A123 batteries, which are wildly recognised as the best lithium batteries available. They even power some of the fastest EVs in the world. When combined with a good battery management system, they’re also capable of incredible range. 

While Fiat haven’t said they’re killing the EV per-say, they certainly seem to be throttling back on the whole thing. In fact, that figure of 60,000 vehicles looks like it’ll be just about enough to satisfy any CARB regulations. Isn’t that a coincidence?

In the meantime, FIAT have gone down in my expectations. And they’ve become the first company to jump off the life-raft that is electric vehicles to swim to the shore on their own. But it’s a long way to the shore.