Chrysler creates electric vehicle division

First task for new organization will be to create a hybrid vehicle from scratch.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Chrysler has created a new division of the company aimed at creating electric-drive vehicles and related advanced-propulsion technologies.

The new organization, called Envi, will be headed by Lou Rhodes who had been in charge of "Advance Vehicle Concepts and Innovation" at Chrysler. In that role, he had led the early stages of engineering development and strategy.

The group's will be dedicated solely to creating production vehicles, not basic engineering research, said Nick Cappa, a Chrysler spokesman.

Envi's first task will be to design a new type of hybrid vehicle, said Cappa. The division could also work on more advanced technologies such a hydrogen fuel cells, he said.

The new hybrid vehicle would be designed, from the start, as a hybrid, as were the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, the first hybrids to be marketed in the United States, said Cappa.

Most hybrid models now sold are modified versions of gasoline powered cars and SUVs already on the market.

Chrysler's first hybrids, for example, will be versions of the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen SUVs. They're expected to come to market in late 2008.

Those vehicles will use a "two-mode" hybrid system developed by Chrysler's former parent company, DaimlerChrysler, in conjunction with General Motors and BMW.

"The creation of Envi allows us to focus on the development of a new generation of environmentally responsible Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles," said Robert Nardelli, Chrysler's chairman and CEO, in a company announcement. "Under Lou's leadership, Envi will develop electric-propulsion vehicles that will provide customers with more fuel-efficient vehicle options."

Envi will be made up of a team of specialists in engineering, manufacturing and procurement, the company said.

"Envi will operate as a 'start-up' with an entrepreneurial environment," said Thomas LaSorda, Chrysler president, in a corporate announcement. "The organization is empowered to leverage the vast resources within Chrysler to develop appropriate solutions quickly."

Chrysler's sales have suffered because of an over-reliance on fuel-inefficient truck-based vehicles and cars powered by large V8 engines. The company has focused on bringing more small, fuel-efficient crossover SUVs, like the new Jeep Patriot and the just-unveiled Dodge Journey, to market.

Jim Press, who used to head Toyota's U.S. operations, recently joined Chrysler as head of sales and marketing. He shares the titles of president and vice chairman with former Chrylser CEO LaSorda.

Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management bought Chrysler from DaimlerChrysler in August. Former Home Depot chief executive Nardelli joined the company as CEO shortly thereafter. Top of page