WASHINGTON -- In the race to develop a family-sized car that gets 80 miles per gallon, DaimlerChrysler Corp. will make a trade-off: concentrating on producing an affordable sedan consumers can buy sooner rather than wringing the final bit of fuel efficiency before going to market.
The company's Dodge ESX3 concept car, displayed in public Tuesday for the first time, has a hybrid diesel and electric engine and gets 72 mpg while comfortably seating five people with plenty of trunk space.
It is the latest concept car as DaimlerChrysler, General Motors and Ford Motor compete to meet a goal set by President Clinton in 1993 to build a family sedan that gets 80 mpg but also is practical and affordable.
But DaimlerChrysler is taking the lead on two fronts: discussing price -- about $28,500 for the ESX3, compared with about $21,000 for today's similarly-sized Dodge Intrepid -- and saying that building an affordable car is more important than meeting a strict miles-per-gallon figure.
''People won't pay exclusively for fuel economy. The way to get this car to market is to make trade-offs to get it close to the point where people will pay for it,'' said Bernard Robertson, DaimlerChrysler's senior vice president for engineering technologies.
The company said Tuesday that two years ago the ESX2, the previous concept car, would have cost $15,000 more than an Intrepid. Chrysler has shaved that price difference in half while raising the fuel economy from 70 mpg to 72 mpg.
Under the government's Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, the three automakers have promised production prototypes in 2004.
There are cars on the road now that get between 60 mpg and 70 mpg, such as the Toyota Prius compact or the two-seater Honda Insight, but they are too small to appeal to American families.
The ESX3, whose body is mostly plastic, weighs about 1,200 pounds less than the steel-framed Intrepid, and can get about 80 mpg on diesel fuel, the equivalent of 72 mpg of gasoline.
The ESX3 gets its power from a three-cylinder diesel engine mated to an electric motor driving the front wheels. The electric motor captures energy used in braking, storing it in a battery pack.
Neither GM nor Ford has estimated the cost of their hybrid cars. Both use aluminum for the bodies, which is much more expensive than plastic.
''What consumers want is for us to mass produce moon-shot technology but at down-to-earth prices,'' said James Holden, DaimlerChrysler's president.
He acknowledged the ESX3's total package of fuel economy, roominess and affordability ''isn't quite here yet, at least in the form consumers will accept.''
The company is applying some of the car's hybrid engine technology to the Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle.
That SUV could be on the market with 20 percent higher fuel efficiency around 2003, Holden said, if Congress approves a $3,000 tax credit for fuel-efficient vehicles that is in the president's proposed budget.
The credit for consumers would wipe out the extra cost of the SUV getting 19 mpg, Holden said.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.