Enthusiasts like the idea of an electric Jeep. But will they buy one?

Chrysler plans to put an electric car into North American production by 2010 and recently displayed four working prototypes developed under its in-house ENVI organization. The four models include a Town & Country minivan, the GEM Peapod Neighborhood Vehicle (NEV), the Lotus-based two-seat Dodge EV, and a Jeep Wrangler.

Developed under ENVI, an in-house program dedicated to advancing electric vehicles and related technology, the models represent an exploration of future integration and a gauge for consumer demand. Throughout 2009, the company will dedicate approximately 100 test vehicles to government, business and utility fleets.

Of the four proposed vehicles, the Wrangler is arguably the most familiar to the specialty-equipment industry. “[We] applaud Jeep's efforts to create off-road vehicles that will reduce noise and carbon emissions," says Lori McCullough, executive director of SEMA member-company Tread Lightly. "When combined with proper riding behavior, this new vehicle can help off-road drivers significantly minimize their impact on the environment."

But would enthusiasts buy one?

SEMA contacted Jeep enthusiasts recently surveyed in the Automotive Lifestyles Survey the day after Chrysler's announcement. Forty people weighed in with their opinions about the electric concept and the challenges and opportunities presented by the news.

Enthusiasts responded with mixed, yet optimistic views when asked whether they would purchase an electric Jeep. Following are unedited comments that represent the general feeling of each grouping:

Very Interested

  • “Good idea. The more new technology in this area will mean less dependence on fossil fuels.”
  • “Great idea if it recharges rapidly and has true long range capability. Would use it for moderate off-roading.”

Somewhat Interested

  • “My next new vehicle will definably be a gas-electric hybrid with the ability to travel 40 miles on electric power only. This range will cover my commute to work. The gasoline engine would only turn on if I made any additional destinations in my normal drive. I would not be interested in an electric-only vehicle. I would definitely use an electric Jeep off-road just like I use my current one.”
  • “I would want the Jeep to be trail-rated and have at least the same capabilities and extras the current models offer (Rubicon package, sway bar, etc.). I would also want the capability to modify the vehicle lifts, larger tires, etc.”

Not Very Interested

  • “I'd be worried about what happens if one of the batteries gets holed off-road. How protected are they? And how many miles of rock crawling up and down hills? And does the "small gasoline engine" make enough power to get out of a nasty trail if the battery dies in the middle of the day? I'd need to know a lot more about the trail-worthiness of it before getting even "somewhat interested".
  • “I think that Jeep should offer it as an option for people who like the idea of having a Jeep, but don't actually drive it off-road!”

Not At All Interested

  • “I just don’t think an electric motor vehicle is really a good option. Hydrogen-powered rigs are probably the best way to go to be green. We are just waiting for the science to figure out the kinks in it. Also, electric-powered Jeeps would be much too difficult for your average backyard gearhead to work on.”
  • “It would take a tremendous amount of power off-roading and I cannot imagine being able to store that much.”

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