Chrysler electrifies its concept trio

  • 31-Mar-2008 07:52 EDT
ZEO exterior.jpg

Dodge Zeo

Three variations on a theme, the theme being environmentally responsible cars propelled by advanced powertrain systems. In a nutshell, that describes Chrysler’s intent with the three very different-looking—but technology-wise, somewhat similar—concept vehicles it revealed in January at the NAIAS.

Common elements among the Chrysler ecoVoyager, Jeep Renegade, and Dodge ZEO (which stands for zero-emissions operation) include a 200-kW electric motor, electrical architecture, power electronics, and a 16-kW·h Lithium-ion battery pack good for a 40-mi (64-km) all-electric range. This technology sharing in concept-car form underscores Chrysler’s goal of developing modular electric-drive systems that enable a high level of component reuse, eventually in production vehicles.

Tasked to accomplish that goal, as well as to spearhead Chrysler’s current and future hybrid-vehicle initiatives, is a newly formed in-house organization called ENVI. ENVI was involved with these concept cars “before day one,” according to its President, Lou Rhodes, who spoke with AEI at the NAIAS.

“These projects started in our California studio and in our Auburn Hills advanced studio…about two [or] two and a half years ago,” Rhodes explained. “That evolved into a thesis for the concept vehicles, and then as we built momentum around the concept vehicles, we determined that it was the right time to create a dedicated group at Chrysler focused primarily on electric-drive technology and vehicles. So my mission is to bring vehicles to production for all three of our brands, as represented here [with these concepts].”

Rhodes noted that the main challenge with these vehicles, and others that may follow, is not necessarily the technology itself, but rather the integration of those technologies. Some of the components, like the electric motor, are in hybrids today, he pointed out, “so it’s really the evolution of more powerful electric motors.”

Regarding Li-ion batteries, the automaker is talking to a number of different strategic suppliers from the U.S., Europe, Japan, Korea, and even China, according to Rhodes. “It’s a quickly evolving technology, and it seems like almost every week there’s another breakthrough, so we’re keeping our fingers on all of the developments.”

“I don’t see any one individual technology really stopping us from moving forward,” Rhodes continued. “So our focus is on the integration, as we showed today.”

In addition to much of their electric-drive technology, including a regenerative braking system, the three concept cars also share many of the same materials. “The interesting part about electric drive is every part of the car has to be efficient,” said Rhodes. As a result, each vehicle features a lightweight aluminum architecture as well as composite body panels.

And “because there is a sustainability message beyond just the propulsion system,” Rhodes said, soy-based foams are used in the seatbacks, seat cushions, and armrests for all three cars. Bio-fabrics were chosen for the seat cushions, headliners, and carpet trim, and post-consumer recyclable products make up a lot of the plastic components.

Yet despite many technical similarities, each concept car is distinctly unique thanks to different “range extender” technologies and design details. With a mass of 2750 lb (1250 kg), the front-wheel-drive Chrysler ecoVoyager has an estimated driving range of 300 mi (483 km) when coupled with a 45-kW PEM (proton exchange membrane) hydrogen fuel cell and its 700-bar (10,150-psi) high-
pressure tanks.

Illustrating how engineering and design are entwined, Greg Howell, principal ecoVoyager concept exterior designer, noted that the car’s one-box shape “pushes the Chrysler brand language in a new direction…by taking full advantage of the space normally occupied by a bulky conventional powertrain setup to drastically reduce the front overhang.”

All of the major components of the ecoVoyager’s propulsion system are packaged beneath the floor, allowing more design freedom for both the exterior and interior.

Inside, the ecoVoyager’s instrument panel (IP) features a full-width display screen set just below the windshield. The left and right outer ends of this non-glare screen contain the side-view mirror image, while a third camera image in front of the driver serves as the rearview mirror.

The B-segment Jeep Renegade incorporates an electric motor on each axle for four-wheel-drive capability, along with low range and locking differentials. Complementing its Li-ion battery pack is a 1.5-L, three-cylinder Bluetec diesel engine, which extends the driving range to 400 mi (645 km). The diesel engine generates an additional 115 hp (86 kW) when needed. The fuel tank holds 10 gal (38 L).

The 3150-lb (1430-kg) concept vehicle is said to be capable of achieving an equivalent petroleum fuel economy of 110 mpg.

Additional materials technologies in the Renegade include a one-piece co-molded IP with a urethane skin, a co-molded aluminum/silicone steering wheel, a one-piece molded chassis created without using harmful resins, and a one-piece molded interior compartment “tub.”

The concept’s interior has no conventional wiring; the IP features wireless electronics in sealed, removable, self-contained units. The panel is built about an exposed cross-car beam containing an integrated power strip.

The electric-only Dodge ZEO is capable of 250 mi (400 km) with its 64-kW·h Li-ion battery pack, achieving an equivalent petroleum fuel economy of 120 mpg. Resting in a rear-wheel-drive layout, the four-door vehicle’s electric motor contributes to a 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) time of 5.7 s. Top speed is 130 mph (210 km/h).

According to its principal exterior designer, Bill Zheng, the 2650-lb (1200-kg) ZEO was “designed to break the paradigm of what an electric car should look like. An electric car can be as expressive as any gasoline-powered vehicle.”

A slim center console slopes down from the windshield of the ZEO, creating a dual-cockpit effect. Customary controls and a viewing screen are set flush with the surface. The steering wheel’s laid-back center hub, which contains the driver airbag and auxiliary switches, is stationary, with the wheel rim revolving around it. The seat shells are constructed from milled aluminum, with video screens integrated into the front seatbacks.

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