Just $7,500 separates the price of a regular Dodge Intrepid from DaimlerChrysler's high-mileage ESX3 concept car, the company says.
But there are a few caveats. The technology to produce the ESX3's all-plastic outer body is not perfected, and the diesel powertrain soon will be illegal for sale in some states.
'If we can make this work, it's clearly the lowest cost, lightest weight approach to achieve the fuel economy goal,' said Bernard Robertson, senior vice president of engineering technologies.
The ESX3 is DaimlerChrysler's contribution to the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a government-sponsored joint venture among the former Big 3 to produce 80-mpg family sedans with the same cost and safety of today's production vehicles. The partners are required to show production-ready vehicles in 2004.
General Motors and Ford Motor Co. debuted their vehicles at the Detroit auto show in January. Robertson said DaimlerChrysler delayed its unveiling to avoid being lost in the clamor of new-car introductions at the show. Reporters and government officials got their first look at the ESX3 at an event Tuesday, Feb. 22, in Washington.
INNOVATIVE PLASTIC BODY
The 2,250-pound ESX3's styling and dimensions are similar to DaimlerChrysler's mid-sized sedans. Its cab-forward shape is exaggerated by being 10 inches shorter than an Intrepid while riding on a wheelbase 5 inches longer.
The body's construction was used first on DaimlerChrysler's CCV concept and resembles that of a plastic car-model kit.
Injection-molded thermoplastic panels and tubs form the floor, cockpit, trunk space and outer panels. The entire body consists of 12 large pieces with aluminum reinforcements bonded in for strength. The pieces are glued to an aluminum underbody frame similar to that used on the Plymouth Prowler roadster. The frame supports the suspension and powertrain.
The car features a 74-hp, 1.5-liter, three-cylinder diesel engine developed in partnership with Detroit Diesel Corp.
The engine is augmented by a 20-hp electric motor running off advanced lithium-ion batteries. Fully $2,600 of the $7,500 cost premium is for the 106-pound battery pack, Robertson said.
With DaimlerChrysler's previous hybrid concepts, the engine and motor operated on separate axles. In contrast, the ESX3 is more like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids in that its flywheel-type electric motor/generator is mated directly to the engine.
Instead of idling, the diesel engine shuts down to conserve fuel. The motor restarts the engine quickly to provide added horsepower during acceleration. It converts to a generator during braking to recharge the batteries. A six-speed automatically shifting manual transmission provides the final link to the front wheels.
Robertson said the car will achieve 72 mpg using a gasoline-equivalent formula and go from 0 to 60 mph in 11 seconds. He said it returns 400 miles on a tank of fuel.
Technical hurdles remain before the ESX3 can be shipped to showrooms. Injection molding large panels is expensive and time consuming. The technology does not exist to mold with a glossy finish. The concept car is hand painted.
Also, the engine's emissions of particulates and oxides of nitrogen will make it illegal to sell under rules being adopted in California and some Northeast states. But Robertson insists those problems could be solved with cleaner fuel and better catalytic converters.
'We're not ready to give up on diesels,' he said. 'They're just so damn efficient.'