AUBURN HILLS, Mich. After seeming to fall behind in the race for alternative-fuel vehicles, Chrysler said on Tuesday that it would produce an electric car for sale in 2010 and follow it up with a broad lineup of battery-powered vehicles.
Chrysler, the smallest of Detroit's three automakers, showed off three electric models, including a minivan, a sport utility vehicle and a two-seat sports car. Company executives declined to say which vehicle would go on sale first.
"We're not prepared to say which one it will be, but I can tell you we are developing a full portfolio," said Robert L. Nardelli, Chrysler's chairman. "We're not talking about one car. We're talking about a full line."
The ambitious plan surprised analysts, many of whom thought Chrysler lacked the size and financial resources to develop an electric car on its own.
The automaker has lost money since it was acquired last year by Cerberus Capital Management, and its U.S. sales have fallen 24 percent.
"Chrysler's electric car bombshell is an attempt to prove to the public and the media that the company is indeed working on future vehicles and that it still has life left in it," said Aaron Bragman of the research firm Global Insight.
By promising an electric model in showrooms by 2010, Chrysler is competing head-on with General Motors and Nissan Motor of Japan to be the first to market in the United States. Last week, GM showed off the production version of its Chevrolet Volt, a four-door sedan powered by a lithium-ion battery pack augmented by a small gasoline engine for recharging.
But rather than building a new vehicle platform as GM has done with the Volt, Chrysler plans to adapt existing models to electric power.
At a press conference, Chrysler unveiled electric versions of its Town and Country minivan and Jeep Wrangler SUV.
Both models are so-called range-extended vehicles like the Volt, meaning they can travel 40 miles on battery power alone and up to 400 more miles with the assistance of a small gas engine.
The third model, the Dodge EV, is a rear-wheel-drive sports car with a body built by the European automaker Lotus. The car, which is powered solely by a lithium-ion battery pack, is said to have a driving range of more than 150 miles and can accelerate to 60 mph in less than five seconds.
Chrysler executives declined to disclose the price of the first model, where it will be built or how soon consumers can expect a full line of electric vehicles. But the electric program, they said, was accelerated by the decision to adapt existing products to the new technology.
"This was a very calculated and strategic decision," Nardelli said. "We decided to put our capital into the technology and not into the platform."
Chrysler is working with several battery makers, but will not choose one until it picks the first model. The company is also working with General Electric and the Energy Department on a project to develop smaller battery packs.
While Chrysler is committed to electric vehicles, Nardelli said the project would benefit directly from a proposed $25 billion federal loan program for the U.S. auto industry.
The loan program was part of legislation passed last year that required a 40 percent improvement in fuel economy by 2020.
House Democrats are expected to attach money for the loan program to a larger appropriations measure that could come to a vote in Congress this week.