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Unplugged: Will Chrysler's ENVI Plans Survive Bankruptcy?

Not surprisingly, Chrysler is being as upbeat as possible about its bankruptcy filing in New York today, predicting that it won't affect the company's day-to-day operations. And that includes its green ENVI division, which has plans to produce at least one of the prototypes (including plug-in hybrids and two battery vehicles) it has recently shown. The most likely to reach production is the Dodge Circuit EV, which is listed as a 2010 product in the company's viability plan.

"Nothing has changed," says Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa. "Vehicle electrification is still very important to the company. We're looking at multiple platforms to determine which EV we're going to produce first, and we're aggressively pursuing that goal."

Cappa counted on his fingers. "We've shown five vehicles, no, six with the cargo minivan," he said. ENVI has been working on EVs since 2005, and wants to have as many as 100,000 of them (for consumers and commercial customers) sold by 2010. The battery minivan is already on the road, though in very small numbers.

The odds against the big sales numbers ENVI envisions just got a bit steeper, though the Dodge Circuit could be a contender against other battery sports cars like the Tesla Roadster. The bankruptcy is expected to take 30 to 60 days, with a new company acquiring all of Chrysler's assets, including many of its 3,300 dealerships, from the court. Production will shut down next Monday, and will not restart until the long-awaited deal with Fiat is concluded.

Under the new terms, the United Auto Workers will own 55 percent of Chrysler and Fiat will get 20 percent (with an option to grow that to 35 percent). The feds, who will put an initial $3 to $3.5 billion on the table, will own eight percent of Chrysler (and the Canadian government two percent). An additional $4.5 billion will be forthcoming from the Treasury Department when Chrysler's restructuring is complete.

ENVI has delivered four battery electric Town & Country minivans to the U.S. Postal Service, and another 24 are planned. Expanding the program to 250 vans, as Chrysler has proposed, depends on Department of Energy grants the company hopes to obtain by June.

According to the Detroit News, Chrysler (which recently signed a battery agreement with Massachusetts-based A123 Systems) is also working with Duke Energy ConEd and DTF Energy on 220-volt electric charging stations for post office fleet garages.

Other environmentally friendly vehicles Chrysler has shown include Chevrolet Volt-type "range extenders," two based on Jeeps and one on the Town & Country. The very sleek Chrysler 200C, which can be partly controlled from a cellphone, rounds out the offerings.

With the courts in control, ENVI's fate is not assured, but the company would certainly need clean, green cars to survive after reorganization.

Jim Motavalli photo

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