With the years of elaborate stage sets and money-burning stunts such as driving cars through plate glass windows consigned firmly to the history books, Chrysler’s 2009 Detroit Motor Show stand was a sober place to be.
While Ford and General Motors executives chose largely to ignore the financial crisis and government bail outs by pretending they hadn’t happened, Chrysler president Jim Press started his presentation by cracking jokes about it. He then outlined how the company – in an aggressive restructuring programme before the credit crisis – was responding. But the rhetoric about its improved product line couldn’t disguise a distinctly anorexic selection of new offerings.
What new cars did Chrysler unveil in Detroit?
The models the firm did unveil were all part of its ENVI electric vehicle programme. The biggest surprise was the 200C, a good looking little brother to the firm’s successful 300C. BMW 5-series size in its dimensions and with a hint of Vauxhall Insignia about its looks, the 200C featured the firm’s range-extended electric vehicle technology.
This uses a 194bhp petrol engine to boost the range and output of a 74bhp lithium-ion battery-powered electric unit. Chrysler claims it has a 40-mile all electric range, enough it says to satisfy the vast majority of US drivers’ daily commute. Powertrain aside, the 200C was a good old-fashioned flight of fancy concept car featuring touch screens to operate all in-vehicle functions and seats that look as comfortable as a bicycle saddle.
While the 200C EV is unlikely to see production reality before 2011, and when it does in a much toned down form, the firm plans to have a similarly powered Town & Country MPV – Grand Voyager in our language – on sale in 2010.
Elsewhere in the Chrysler stable, both Dodge and Jeep unveiled electric derivatives as the firm seeks to convince that it is responding to the need for more environmental friendly models.
However, anyone expecting daring new designs will be sadly disappointed. The Circuit EV is a barely altered Lotus Europa. Instead of the British car’s conventional mid-mounted petrol engine, the Circuit has a 268bhp lithium-ion battery powering the rear wheels. This is recharged by plugging into a regular domestic supply and when full will give a range of between 150 and 200 miles.
But externally, apart from the addition of the Dodge crosshair grille – essentially just a new front bumper arrangement – the car is a disappointingly unadulterated Europa which probably won’t win it many fans in the UK.
Jeep has also gone the electric route. It had a Wrangler with a petrol-electric hybrid power plant giving a total 400-mile range and 40-miles of all-electric driving. And there was a version of its Patriot small SUV with similar performance but from a smaller 140bhp petrol unit.
Like the Grand Voyager EV, this model is slated to go on sale in 2010. It forms part of a product line up which Chrysler bullishly claims will include four ENVI models by 2013. For many observers that’s a case of too little, too late.