When Daimler and Chrysler divorced last summer, Chrysler kept a small but significant subsidiary.
With gasoline prices soaring and no relief in sight, Chrysler's Global Electric Motorcars could come in handy as appetites grow for alternative-power vehicles. GEM, a wholly owned Chrysler subsidiary in Fargo, N.D., makes low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles, powered by lead acid batteries.
“Gasoline is approaching $4 a gallon,” says GEM President Rick Kasper. “When we started this venture, it was $1.25.”
Neighborhood electric vehicles are electric vehicles restricted to 25 mph. Federal law permits them to travel on any road with a speed limit up to 35 mph. They do not have airbags and do not have to be crash-tested. GEM vehicles range from $6,795 for a two-seater to $12,500 for a six-seater.
Unlike auto sales at Chrysler's three brands, GEM sales have been growing, by about 15 percent annually for the past five years. GEM sales have averaged 4,000 vehicles a year, the company says. Since it made its first vehicle in 1998, GEM has sold about 37,000.
The company declined to give more details about sales or financial results, although Kasper says GEM is profitable.
GEM sells its vehicles through about 150 dealerships nationwide, about 125 of which are Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep stores.
“We're constantly looking for new dealers in the right market,” says Kasper. The vehicles are delivered to customers and are usually serviced by one of GEM's mobile service vehicles. GEM also is expanding internationally, particularly in western Europe.