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Earth Week is scheduled from Friday, April 15 through Friday, April 22. The parade of cars and trucks will take place on Tuesday, April 19, and be part of the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) conference. Twenty-two companies will participate, including AMP Electric Vehicles, BMW, Coda Automotive, Edison Electric Institute, General Motors, Mitsubishi, Tesla, Toyota and VW.
It will be begin with a 10 a.m. press conference presided over by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and will terminate at the EDTA Conference Ride, Drive and Charge at the Washington Convention Center.
Plans for the next day are for U.S. DOT Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to open the 2011 EDTA conference.
With federal officials looking on, the EDTA has said it is hopeful to make a positive impression in promoting solutions for the worsening energy crisis. “We are excited to show consumers and policymakers how many electric drive choices are available and how rapidly innovations are being brought to the market place,” said Brian Wynne, president of EDTA. “These cars and trucks, and the technology that supports them, are helping to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, reducing driving costs and pollution, improving our national security and creating advanced energy jobs.”
To celebrate Earth Day, Chrysler invited a select group of media to the Green Ride N Drive, (held during the SAE Show in Detroit today), to get behind the wheel of the Dodge Circuit EV. So in an act of automotive environmental irony that has to this day only been perpetrated on the planet by Jeremy Clarkson, we hopped in our twin-turbocharged V8-powered BMW 750i test car and drove 300 miles, just to spend 20 minutes in a zero-emissions car.
Sure there were plenty of other “green” cars on hand, including several Japanese hybrids and German diesels that are already on the market, but the Circuit is a stand-out vehicle in a lineup of green alternatives, due to its sporty Dodge looks and impressive performance. We were, however, surprised that the car was painted black… and not the bright orange we had seen before. (A Chrysler rep told us there are actually three Circuit EVs in existence).
Powered by two lithium-ion battery packs, the Circuit EV makes 268hp and can hit 60 mph in less than five seconds. As the route we took consisted of a lap around downtown Detroit, the speed limits didn’t allow for any shenanigans, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t tromp on the go pedal a few times.
It’s somewhat strange that there is only one gear, as you often get the feeling you should be doing something other than just holding on. The lack of “shift shock” actually makes the car feel less speedy than it is, especially once you get higher in the mph range. Off the line, however, there is plenty of readily-available torque.
The Circuit EV is somewhat heavier than it looks and we’d suggest some larger brakes for the production model, but the added weight gives a great road-hugging center of gravity and the driving dynamics are very Lotus-like, which is to say, impressive! We tossed the car through the only real corner we found on the drive and it felt incredibly well-planted.
In terms of functionality the Circuit is a tiny sports car and so it’s not easy to get in and out of. That one trait aside, it would make for a superb commuter car with an electric range of 150 to 200 miles. Chrysler ENVI senior manger John Myers (the man who oversees all electric vehicles at Chrysler) told us that due to several different battery packs (found in some of the other Chrysler electric vehicles), that range could be extended.
Inside the Circuit is, again, very Lotus-like, with some serious light weight seats and not much else. Despite the Spartan interior, however, there is a nice two-tone design to the cockpit with cream leather on the dash top. Myers says that were the car to make it to production, it would receive a corporate Chrysler transformation, with more user-friendly buttons and more attractive gauges. As it stands the dull Lotus units work fine, although we did notice one amusing trait; the gas gauge always shows that the gas tank is empty… which couldn’t be more accurate.
As for the rest of the driving experience, it wasn’t at all bothersome that the car is mostly silent to drive. In fact, it actually makes a slight whine, not unlike the sound of a supercharger. What is odd, however, is watching someone else drive up in the car… in complete and utter silence.
Impressively, for a concept car, the Circuit is well-finished and one might even say it’s showroom ready, with fit, finish and build quality all top-notch and a driving experience that is just-about the same as a production car.
Chrysler still has no immediate plans to bring the Circuit EV (or any of its electric vehicles) to market. Then again, right now nothing at Chrysler is certain.
If one of the EV platforms (which also include Jeep and Chrysler models) does get chosen for production we hope it’s the Circuit EV. While it doesn’t offer the mass-production appeal that will please the accountants, those willing to buy such a green sports car likely won’t mind paying the premium to drive it. Besides, it definitely has a niche-market marketing quality that Dodge could help build a whole new brand image behind.
Myers did tell us that the Circuit is more than just a flash in the pan for Chrysler. Since the car was first unveiled it has received several updates and continues to be a work-in-progress, with the designers even working on a slightly different front end that allows slightly better ground-clearance.
Myers said they want to be read if and when a car like the Circuit EV gets the go-ahead.
Check back in the next few days for a full review of the car in our “Reviews” section, as well as some video of the drive and a chat with Chrysler NV boss John Myers.
GALLERY: Dodge Circuit EV
More ont he Dodge Circuit EV after the jump: