Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chrysler to make an electric-drive Jeep Wrangler

Chrysler LLC is expected to unveil three electric-drive vehicles today, one of which is a Jeep Wrangler sport utility vehicle. The Wrangler is made at the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex.

The announcement is to be made this afternoon, although news reports indicate a Wrangler would be one of the vehicles. The plan includes a plug-in electric sportscar for the Dodge label. One of the vehicles will be available for sale by 2010, but the company hasn’t said which one.

Tom LaSorda, a Chrysler president and vice chairman, told the Detroit Free Press that the automaker has been developing the vehicles for about 20 months.
“The teams have been working on it for some time. We’ve had these products in the pipeline,” he said.

“We said we’ll take something more bold on the electric — all electric,” LaSorda told the newspaper. “On the range-extended, we didn’t want to spend the time on developing an all new platform, an all new car and then an all new propulsion system.

“We said we’ve got two icons for our company, a Wrangler, which is the icon for the Jeep brand, and the minivan, there’s 11 million-plus which we’ve sold. And people would say, ‘My god, they brought green to a minivan and Wrangler, this is unbelievable.’”

The range-extended vehicles, which are in the same vein of development as electric Volt being developed by General Motors Corp., would run on electricity but would have a back-up gas-burning motor to generate electricity once the battery charge runs out.

“Wow!” said a surprised Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, which represents about 3,400 workers at Toledo Jeep. “We’re excited that they’re doing something to help our products in the marketplace.”

Sales of the Wrangler nearly doubled in 2007 when Chrysler rolled out a four-door version of the iconic sport utility vehicle, but returned to more historic sales levels this year of between 60,000 and 80,000 units as high gas prices ravaged SUV sales. An environmentally-friendly version of the original SUV could help reignite interest in the vehicle.

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