Chrysler EV Initiative Shines Light on Lotus

By Michelle Krebs September 25, 2008

By Bill Visnic

Dodge EV - 290.JPG With Chrysler LLC's announcement Tuesday that the company is studiously working on a host of electric-drive technologies for a wide range of market segments, one of the more intriguing wild cards to emerge is the United Kingdom's tiny Lotus Cars.

The swoopiest of a trio of electric-intensive concept vehicles Chrysler unveiled is the Dodge EV, a wholly electric 2-seater based on Lotus' recently launched Europa. Powered only by lithium-ion batteries that are recharged from the electric grid, the Dodge EV has a range of 150 to 200 miles, Chrysler said.

The Europa is a derivation of the Lotus Elise platform, which itself serves loosely as the foundation for the high-profile Tesla Roadster, the expensive, high-performance all-electric car now being produced by new industry startup Tesla Motors. Lotus builds the Tesla Roadster under contract with Tesla Motors - and it's perhaps possible Lotus could strike the same deal with Chrysler for the Dodge EV.

Chrysler sources say any potential connection with Lotus and the electric vehicles Chrysler showed the media will be detailed at a future date. A Lotus spokesman told AutoObserver the company has "nothing to announce at this time."

The appearance of the Lotus-based Dodge EV does, however, indicate Lotus - with a historic inclination for lightweight engineering and powertrain efficiency-enhancement that is mission-specific for what automakers need now and need fast - is emerging as an important green-engineering resource.

Lotus ownership has passed through many hands in recent years, including General Motors Corp. Malaysia's Proton Holdings is the owner of Group Lotus plc, which includes Lotus Cars and Lotus Engineering. It is the work of Lotus Engineering that ultimately may prove of more long-term significance than the relatively limited-purpose Lotus donor cars currently serving as convenient "conversion" platforms for Tesla and Chrysler.

At the 2007 Geneva auto show, for example, Lotus Engineering's EVE (Efficient, Viable, Lotus EVE hybrid concept.jpg Environmental) concept focused on applying cost-competitive HEV technology that could be adapted by major automakers for existing models. The EVE concept particularly stressed minimizing development time - a factor presumably important to Chrysler, which is playing the catch-up with General Motors Corp. and its headline-hogging Chevrolet Volt "extended-range" electric vehicle.

The Lotus EVE concept showcased parallel-hybrid technology, however, and the Lotus-based Dodge EV is a pure electric car; Lotus itself has demonstrated variants of its Elise converted to electric propulsion. Lotus also has devoted resources to ongoing development of all manner of efficiency-enhancing technologies, from lightweight structures - a Lotus trademark - to enhancing biofuel compatibility and optimizing CO2 output.

Although nobody's confirming it yet, it appears Lotus may play a substantial engineering role in Chrysler's attempt to recover ground lost to GM, Toyota and others in the rush to introduce electrification and internal-combustion advances to the U.S. market.

Photos by manufacturers

1 - The Dodge EV is based on the Lotus Europa.

2 - The Lotus EVE concept was developed to showcase low-investment efficiency-enhancing technologies that could be quickly engineered into existing vehicles.

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