Chrysler Corp., following the lead of rival General Motors, said it will develop an electric-powered minivan for possible commercial production as early as 1995.
"With more technical development, we believe we may be able to build a fleet of vehicles," said Francois Castaing, Chrysler's vice president of vehicle engineering, at a news conference before the opening of the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show.Castaing stressed that the development program, which will modify the existing Dodge Caravan or Plymouth Voyager minvans, needs to produce a low-cost, high-efficiency battery to provide power.
"The remaining question," he said, "is can electric vehicles be cost-effective, reliable and convenient for customers?"
General Motors introduced a prototype electric vehicle last year - the Impact - but said problems with batteries would keep such cars out of showrooms for at least five years.
Chrysler has already developed four electric "TE" minivans for field evaluation, using a nickel-iron battery pack that weighs about 1, 800 pounds and would have a cost per vehicle of $6,000 to $10,000. The van has a range of about 120 miles per charge and a top speed of 65 miles per hour.
"The current state of battery technology has not yet achieved success against two of our greatest technological concerns - initial high cost and limited range," Castaing said.
To reach that point, Chrysler has signed a 28-month agreement with the Electric Power Research Institute, the electric utility industry's research and development arm.