Video: Chrysler goes electric

updated 9/23/2008 12:00:42 PM ET 2008-09-23T16:00:42

Chrysler LLC said Tuesday it will put an electric car on sale in North America in 2010, revealing that despite missing out on the buzz surrounding the Chevrolet Volt, it is neck and neck with General Motors Corp. in the race to put a mass-produced electric vehicle on America's roads.

The company showed reporters three electric prototypes: a Dodge sports car, a Jeep and a Chrysler minivan. But Chrysler's product development chief, Frank Klegon, said the automaker hasn't decided which one it will roll out first.

The Dodge sports car is completely electric, but the Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler minivan models will have a recharging system similar to the Volt, which GM has said will go on sale in November 2010. The Volt plugs into a standard wall outlet and can go 40 miles (65 kilometers) on battery power alone, but then a small gasoline engine kicks in to recharge the batteries, allowing the car to travel hundreds more miles.

Chrysler is still working with several partners on the battery technology for its vehicles, Klegon said.

Rising gas prices and the decline in U.S. auto sales has put GM, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. under pressure to break away from their dependence on trucks and SUVs for profits and focus on more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Chrysler's sales have taken the hardest hit, but the Auburn Hills-based automaker appeared to be behind other automakers that have touted plans to launch electric vehicles in the next few years.

Vice Chairman Tom LaSorda said Tuesday that the company is further ahead on developing electric vehicles than many had thought, but it kept the cars secret until recently.

"We believe in the saying, 'Actions speak louder than words,'" LaSorda said.

Toyota Motor Corp. also is pushing to get a plug-in electric vehicle to market in 2010, while Ford, which is testing 20 on roads in California, says it is five years away from producing them in significant numbers.

Chrysler Chief Executive Bob Nardelli said the technologies the company displayed Tuesday would be accelerated if Congress funds a $25 billion loan program to help automakers and their suppliers modernize their plants to make more fuel-efficient vehicles.

He said if the loans aren't available, the production of electric vehicles would be slowed by constraints in financing and the development process, and amid the industry's current struggles, that could lead to more layoffs and further production capacity cuts.

"There's only a limited amount of liquidity," Nardelli said. But he denied that Chrysler showed off its electric prototypes Tuesday because Congress is considering the loan funding this week.

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