The North American International Auto Show held in Detroit each January is the first major venue for auto manufacturers to showcase their advanced design and engineering efforts. This year was no exception and three of the most exciting automobiles that give us a real-world glimpse into the future came from the Chrysler camp.
Each of the vehicles exhibited different attributes as well as far-reaching technologies. The first was a minivan-like people mover called the ecoVoyager.
The attractive exterior design features a curving trapezoidal shape. A panoramic glass roof lends a near convertible open-top experience. The boat-tail rear-end design harkens a bygone era, melding modernism with the classic treatment. And to give it a more planted, hunkered-down stance, the wheels are moved dramatically to the corners.
The ultra-modern exterior design only hints at the advanced interior design, which offers the amenities one would expect from a personal jet. Gauges and controls are positioned to reduce head and eye movement from the road. Vents are hidden behind recessed perforated mesh, accentuating the free flow design.
Power for the 200 kilowatt (268 horsepower) motor is provided by a lithium-ion battery-pack with the ability to travel nearly 40 miles on a charge, much more than the average daily commute. However, utilizing the hydrogen fuel cell range extender, the ecoVoyager can travel more than 300 miles.
Extended range is one of the major "must haves" drivers say they need in their vehicles, according to Chrysler. Having the capability of accelerating from a stop to 60 mph in fewer than eight seconds while emitting nothing more than water vapor from the tailpipe is pretty sweet, too.
If you are a sports car fan, you will be as excited as I was to see the electric-powered Dodge ZEO. Powering the rear wheels is a single 200-kilowatt (268 horsepower) electric motor that propels the ZEO to a reported 60 mph in under six seconds. That approaches Hemi-like power performance.
The sleek front-end design is low, aerodynamic and sports an illuminated cross-hair Dodge grille. Large 23-inch alloy wheels fitted with low-profile Goodyear tires fill the round wheel arches, which are moved far to each corner, suggesting superior handling characteristics.
Combining the performance of a Hemi with an advanced lithium-ion battery pack said to be capable of a range up to 250 miles, the ZEO takes the compromise out of being green. I can't wait to put this car to a real-world test.
Chrysler is focusing these efforts through its new in-house ENVI organization, which is responsible for producing electric-drive vehicles and related advanced-propulsion technologies. Another surprise from the group is the Jeep Renegade Concept, equipped with dual electric motors deriving power from a lithium-ion battery pack. Employing one motor per axle, the Renegade brings true 4X4 capability to electric vehicles.
The Renegade's electric mode has a range of 40 miles, typical of electric vehicles. By utilizing a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder Bluetec diesel engine, this Jeep boasts an extended 400-mile range, translating to a petroleum fuel economy of as high as 110 mpg.
The open-cockpit design and large oversize tires lean more toward dune-surfing than rock crawling. However, the Jeep folks contend the Renegade displays a personality and capability that's "one with nature" no matter the terrain. I just want to play in the mud with this Jeep.
The NAIAS shows that we can have our performance cake and our environment, too. From my perspective, if we continue to have car folks designing, engineering and building vehicles, we will continue to have exciting rides to quell our thirst for sporty vehicles.