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Testing the Cars as Chrysler Goes Electric

Ladies and gentleman, there's a new team entering the great race in the auto industry to build the first mass market electric vehicle.

It's Chrysler.

Yes, Chrysler. After a year of being the subject of suggestions that the company has a weak product pipeline and lacks a growth plan, the country's #5 automaker is making a big splash showing some electric models it plans to roll out in 2010.

Yesterday, at Chrysler's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan I had a chance to drive the Dodge sports car that is all-electric and frankly, a hell of a ride.

The prototype, called the Dodge EV, is powered by a lithium ion battery pack, re-charges through a home outlet, and can go 0-60 in under 5 seconds. Pushing the Dodge EV around Chrysler's test track, two things stood out: 1) It's a great ride for a prototype 2) Chrysler is determined to tell naysayers the company DOES have a plan for the future. (See the test drives in the video)

Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli has heard the suggestion he's caretaker for an automaker being prepped for a sale. Yesterday as we drove around in a Jeep Wrangler extended range electric car (first 40 miles all-electric, then an internal combustion engine kicks in to power the electric motor and extend the range to 400 miles), Nardelli dismissed talk of Chrysler sliding into irrelevance. He admits sales have slumped because of a tough market overall, but he points to 28 new models coming out the next 5 years as proof his company is not sitting still.

Jeep Wrangler EV
Jeep Wrangler EV
Jeep Wrangler EV

But it's the electric cars that will get the most attention in the next couple of years. The Dodge EV I drove is a nice start. Yes, it's a prototype and there is still work to be done before it is close to hitting showrooms, but for a first drive I was very impressed. The acceleration, handling and feel of the car convinced me Chrysler has done it's homework.

Chrysler minivan EV
Chrysler minivan EV
Chrysler minivan EV

We're a ways from seeing who wins the great electric car race among the large global automakers, but make no mistake, Chrysler is in the game.

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Dodge EV
Dodge EV
Dodge EV


Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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