April 8, 2008 Chrysler's latest battery-electric concept is an absolute ripper. The Dodge Zeo concept is an all-American muscle car with a heart of green. Sitting a tier below the all-out performance figures of the Tesla Roadster and Lightning GT, the Zeo makes around 268 horses for a 0-60mph time just under 6 seconds, and its lithium-based battery pack gets a range of up to 250 miles. It looks a million dollars, oozing sexiness and performance potential, and more importantly it's one of the first serious sports-focused battery-electric concepts we've seen from any of the major auto manufacturers. Are the big car makers catching on to battery cars as the way of the future?

Major auto manufacturers appear to be tentatively making steps to break away from their ties with big oil. Oil companies have a vested interest in pushing hydrogen fuel cells as the next generation auto fuel, due to the fact that hydrogen, like petrol, requires a distribution and dealership network that the oil companies are excellently positioned to provide.

But as development continues, it's becoming clear that plug-in battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) are far more efficient energy users than fuel cell cars - and that the latest generations of lithium battery technology are delivering excellent range, greatly improved safety and even very quick charging times - breaking down the last few remaining barriers to their commercialization. Of course, the cost barrier is still present, with bleeding-edge batteries still doubling the price of even the most high-end car designs, but once they're being produced in any serious numbers, we can expect that to change as well.

Chrysler's Dodge Zeo concept is the latest to hit the auto shows, an electric muscle car with a 250-mile range and 268 peak horsepower to propel the sexy orange beast from 0 to 60mph in less than 6 seconds. It uses a single electric engine to power the rear wheels, and it's built to satisfy the demanding sportscar lover as much as the tree-hugger.

The Zeo is unlikely to go into production in its current form; while the nice curved windscreen/sunroof looks fantastic on the prototype, it's far from a practical design for a roadcar. The mirrors, likewise, are comically small. But the overall 'muscle car meets semi-hatch' look of the Zeo is quite stunning, particularly the rear angle and flared wheel arches.

The bright white interior is "treated as if it were a single piece of sculpture," and looks pretty smooth, with its cool blue LED highlights. Auxiliary switches are built into the center of the steering wheel and the instrument panel is set flush into the dashboard surface. It's a 4-seater, but I don't know how enthusiastic I'd be about squeezing into the Zeo's rear seats.

We'd hope the Zeo's release, and the big impact it made at the Detroit Auto Show, help Chrysler towards a mass-market version before too long - the market is more than ready for electric commuters, and sports/muscle cars are essential to prove the medium's performance credentials.

Loz Blain

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