The Great Electric Car Battery Race
At a breakfast in New York last week, Jim Press, vice chairman and president of Chrysler LLC made the startling announcement that every single new Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep is being engineered so that it can be adapted for a gas-electric hybrid powertrain. That's a huge change for technologically challenged Chrysler, which currently markets only two gas-electric hybrid vehicles - both of them equipped with technology developed by General Motors (GM, Fortune 500).
In fact, Press's statement is the most sweeping endorsement of hybrid vehicles by any manufacturer - Toyota included - and it represents a huge reversal in attitude toward hybrids. Scorned as uneconomical curiosities only a few years ago, they are now solidly in the mainstream. Whereas 13 hybrid models were for sale in 2007, there are, by one count, expected to be more than 60 available by 2011. GM announced this week that it will offer at least 16 hybrid models by 2012.
Aside from escalating gas prices and concerns about global warming, the changing attitudes toward hybrids is being driven by rapid developments in the batteries used to power them. Not long ago, batteries seemed trapped in the 19th century, a mature technology that wasn't progressing very quickly. But both established battery makers and ambitious startups are pushing battery development at once unimaginable speeds.
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