• Apr 22nd 2009 at 7:48PM
  • 24
Two months ago we went for a ride in the Dodge Circuit EV. We can now say with confidence that it is worth waiting 70+ days to make the shift to the left side of the car, following a brief spin around Cobo Hall in a prototype vehicle during the SAE World Congress here in Detroit.

We got to spend about 15 minutes in the car with John Myers, who works for Chrysler's ENVI and was project lead on the Dodge Circuit EV. Not to take anything away from what Chrysler has done here, but every time we get behind the wheel of an EV, we get the same giddy smile. It will be a long, long time before the thrill of driving an all-electric vehicle wears off. Chrysler isn't the first to realize that building an EV off of a Lotus platform makes for an incredibly fast and fun experience (see also: Tesla Roadster)

We escaped from the dark confines of Cobo Hall onto a decently sunny day and cruised along the river and past the Ren Cen, gunning the Circuit whenever possible. A car like the Circuit does not like to be stuck on roads with 25 mph speed limits, but those roads made up most of the prescribed route. Still, the instant torque of the electric motor is a rush you get to experience all the time in city driving; each time you pull away from a red light and stop sign you're wondering why gasoline engines ever became popular. The trouble is you then have to stop right away, which brings about some pretty strong regenerative braking action, something that Chrysler needs to work on before making the Circuit available for sale. Keep reading about the EV's good and bad qualities after the jump.



Myers told us that the brakes are just one of the things that will be refined before the Circuit ever makes it to showrooms (and, by the looks of it, this might be the first ENVI out the door). The tight grip that the Circuit's brakes have on the wheels as soon as you take your foot off of the gas acceleration pedal might be changeable by the driver through a knob on the dashboard, Myers said. For now, if you want to keep moving, you need to keep pressing go. No coasting available. Thankfully, since parts of the powertrain in the Circuit are also used in other Chrysler ENVI vehicles - like the all-electric USPS minivan that was unveiled earlier today - work that is done on one model can be applied to others.



The car is noisy, with the hum of the electric motor omnipresent when you're not at a standstill. Luckily, the sound is kind of cool. Part movie spaceship, part oil independence klaxon, the sound fills the cabin and certainly won't appeal to everyone. Of course, NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) work is also on Chrysler's To Do list, but Myers pointed out that at least the motor is quieter than if the Lotus Circuit has a gasoline engine, so that's something.

Other parts that need work are the incredibly thick sills between the occupants and the doors (you can see what I'm talking about in this picture). The already-tiny cabin is made even smaller and is a challenge to get in and out of, but this isn't Chrysler's fault - blame Lotus and the way they make their cars. Myers said that when the car goes through crash testing, they hope to reduce the width of the sills, but for now they wanted to go with something that was tried and tested.



One last major area that simply must be changed is that the Circuit has basically zero rear visibility. Side mirrors and a tiny tunnel of light for the rearview mirror to see through simply are not enough, and did nothing to make driving this expensive prototype easy with Detroit drivers all around.



Small size. New technology. An (expected) high price tag. A troubled company. Can these things add up to make a car that people want to buy? One anecdote from the drive is worth relaying. While taking a few quick pictures of the car out of doors, a passerby stopped to check it out. He was immediately impressed and said it got two thumbs up from him. Then, he halted. "You can only fit two midgets in there," he said, "And I'm talking midget midgets." Not subtle, but it shows that it didn't take the average man on the street much time to identify one of the major drawbacks to the Circuit. We'll see how the masses respond when they are presented with the full reality of Chrysler's first (?) fully electric car.

Still, for all the faults, this is a very promising vehicle. We'll need to spend some more time with the car to find out how it holds up over longer drives, but the powertrain tech obviously works. This one fact is arguably more important than how the car acts on the road. For now, the Circuit has all sorts of EV appeal, but it'll be up to groups that Chrysler can't control - the Presidential auto task force, the higher-end customer market, etc. - to decide if we ever get to see these promises fulfilled.



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  • 24 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      Chris you make a very fair point but thats only in california rite. In lots of other cities around the world the majority of electricity come from fossil fuels rite???
      Although Climate change is a massive problem, it always comes down to money with the real decision makers so rite now you could say people use only steam reforming but we havent really developed H2 technology much have we??? i reckon we should go with a mix of all of these vehicles and see how it goes for the next few years while we further develop the technologies.
      Are the parts from either FCV's or EV's recyclable?
      • 6 Years Ago
      "the Circuit has basically zero rear visibility"

      ...It's a Lotus.
      • 8 Months Ago
      How big is something like this compared to say, a Chrysler Crossfire ?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Stop makin f*kn battery powered cars there not gonna work, yeah woo zero emissions remember where the powers coming from rite now nim rods, you still have tins of co2 at the power plant. This is only useful after your on some other renewable source of electricity or using nuclear.
      FCV's are the way of the future!
        • 8 Months Ago
        You write just like Gorr, same anti-battery zealotry, same lack of logic.

        Sorry, but electrics and electric power plants are so efficient that CO2 emissions are less than gassers even when the electricity comes from coal - and a lot of electricity doesn't come from coal. In California, 20% of our electricity comes from zero CO2 renewables (sun, wind, geothermal), another 20% from zero CO2 hydro, and only 20.1% from coal. As more renewables come online, battery electrics just keep getting cleaner and greener.

        But where does Hydrogen come from? Well, the cheapest source is from steam reformed fossil fuels, and that process produces CO2, especially when that fossil fuel is coal. So, Nimrod, didn't you realize that FCVs would cause CO2 emissions as well? Or did you think all that H2 would be produced by electrolysis only, at a higher cost? Well, then, you're back to coal burning power plants, and a dirty little secret the H2 hypers don't like to discuss: The electrical storage efficiency of water electrolysis, compression for storage, and PEM fuel cell combined is only 23%. The combined electrical storage efficiency of charger and batteries is 85%. It takes 3x more electricity going the H2 route! That means either 3x more coal burning for that electricity, or 3x more of our limited supply of clean renewable energy diverted to transportation, leaving less renewable energy to displace fossil fuel usage elsewhere.

        You seriously want to reduce CO2 emissions? Then push for the more efficient plug-in option and renewable power, not the less efficient "made from fossil fuels" H2 fuel cell option.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Am I the only one who thinks this looks like a mid 90's car?
        • 8 Months Ago
        you got it! your the only one hating on the looks everyone else thinks its sick!!!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I SOOOOooooo want one.....

      I really hope this can be built for a reasonable cost. I would love to have one for my daily commuter. Then I can keep my current quad cab truck for when I need to move more people or haul stuff.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'd like to see what Lotus can do with an electric car... This is nice and all, but Lotus seems to have a better grasp on what a sports car should be: simple, quick, light and excellent handling. Add in the "eco" flavor and they have a buyer!

      It seems like it still may be cheaper to just buy a well used Lotus Elise and modify it yourself. READ: $10,000 of changes and the satisfaction of the build + $25,000 of Used car = $35,000 of Fun! Not to mention the parts you most definitely could sell from the running gear...
        • 8 Months Ago
        I'd also like to add that it would be a fun project, and it's been done before.

        http://www.evalbum.com/1454

        This guy has a very nice looking conversion, he managed to do it for about 25k. It's no tesla but it's still a fantastic little car.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Yea, you COULD convert a lotus for $10k but the conversion wouldn't be terribly satisfying. If you want it to perform like a sports car instead of a slug in a sportscar's skin, you're going to need that 10k for the ac drive system alone, and then maybe another 15k for a lithium battery pack. Which puts you at 50k, plus labor.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Does anyone know what the current price tag is for the Circuit? I heard its $100,000 now but will be $50,000 by next year. Of course, the question remains as to whether Chrysler will still be around by next year.
      • 6 Years Ago
      If Chrysler, Tesla, Fisker and the rest of these companies would stop wasting time developing 2 seater electric sports cars and start building the hybrids that people need for kids, groceries and everyday life for everyday people they would be much better off.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Because....the current "hybrids" are a joke. Give me something that runs purely off electric with a gasoline powerplant for the long drives...and I'll buy a true hybrid. Plug in hybrids are the family hauler, full electric are for performance, Prius (and Honda's knockoff) and any other "hybrid" currently being marketed are for wannabe green, liberal pansies.
        • 8 Months Ago
        They ARE working towards that. Chevy's volt is exactly what a family with kids would need, as is the Tesla model S, and yea, they're both pricey. It's new technology, it takes time, and money. The reason they're starting with high priced sports cars is because aiming at that market is the easiest way for them to fund R&D and scale up production so they can make smaller more practical EV's for the masses.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I always thought the viper was one of the most masculine sport cars out there, the circuit fits the bill.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Yeah I agree, and the side-view mirrors are 80s.

        Not bad looking though, it needs modernization.
      • 6 Years Ago
      as for hybrids and electric cars i have no use for them.... too $$$ and will cost to much to fix the circuit is a nice car....but id rather have a 4 cyl turbo in it instead
      • 8 Months Ago
      I liked the Zeo concept from last year's show season. Too bad Chrysler won't be around to follow through on this. Their Envi division however will be picked by someone at the liquidation sale. As a long time Mopar fan, seeing this company go under will hurt.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Envi includes the GEM entries. I think electric cars are the furture and this unit has some real world experience. I also think it will be cheap, which is why I think someone will buy the group. Or maybe just snap up the engineers.
        • 8 Months Ago
        "Their Envi division however will be picked by someone at the liquidation sale."

        What exactly do they have to sell? A contract with UQM? If the Circuit is any example, ENVI has no actual IP.
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