Chrysler announced plans to build a Jeep Patriot electric vehicle today. The company is still testing the waters to find the perfect EV to bring to production by the end of 2010.

Chrysler, which has so far lagged behind rival automakers in electric vehicles, will make a prototype Jeep Patriot EV. This is the fourth confirmed electric concept test for the automaker.

Last September, they put a trio of potential electric production vehicles on display, including a Dodge sports car (based on the Lotus Europa), a Chrysler Town and Country MPV, and a Jeep Wrangler. The sports car was revealed today as the Dodge Circuit.

That car goes 0-60mph in under five seconds, with a range up to 200 miles (322 km). Top speed is 120mph.

Chrysler would build the Jeep SUV with a petrol engine, meant to kick in when the vehicle's batteries run low on juice. Petrol would help recharge the batteries, while allowing drivers to extend the range of their auto.

All of these vehicles fall under the new Chrysler ENVI group, a division set up to run electric vehicle development. Batteries in the autos will be flatter, using cells shaped like thin plates instead of cylinders. The result is said to be lighter and more efficient, but Chrysler still has not found a manufacturer for the lithium-ion batteries.

The Jeep Patriot electric sport-utility vehicle demonstrates Chrysler's ability to be diversified, while appealing to a wide range of consumers. Adding an electric SUV to their lineup would no doubt appeal to a swath of Americans wanting to drive a big vehicle, but increasingly unwilling to pay the associated gas bills.

A Jeep Patriot EV would likely fit under Chrysler's extended-range vehicle scheme. Those vehicles would travel 40 miles (64 km) on battery power alone, with the ability to motor for 400 miles (643 km) on a single tank of gas.

In a statement released at the NAIAS, Chrysler development head Frank Klegon said, “We are well on our way to bringing electric vehicles to our consumers’ garages.”

However, Chrysler now faces two major problems. They have vowed to shareholders that they will produce at least one EV by 2010, but they still have not advanced beyond the concept stage. Additionally, with their well published shortage of cash, research-and-development funding at the company is likely tighter than in the past.

GM will release the Chevrolet Volt in 2010, and Nissan intends to release a production electric vehicle next year as well. Toyota will ship 150 units of the Toyota Prius as a plug-in hybrid this year, with an all-electric version due out in 2012. Chrysler certainly does not want to be left out of the party.

Jeep Patriot EV Revealed