The Chrysler Peapod, The Reason Innovation Gets a Bad Name

I believe the time of the electric vehicle is drawing near. It makes a lot of sense: we already have the ubiquitous infrastructure for “fueling” – any electric socket -, can be recharged with renewable energy, and does not have the fear factor some people have about driving around with a tank of hydrogen in back of them. (BTW, hydrogen as fuel is as safe as standard gasoline using modern storage methods). The major issue is energy storage: batteries. They are heavy, take a long time to recharge, have a limited lifespan, comparatively expensive to make and very unfriendly towards the environment at the point of disposal. There is also a weight vs. energy issue, the reason why the vast majority of a rockets weight is in fuel to get it going. Gas has a pretty good ratio of stored energy to the weight, batteries don’t. But like personal computers, they will get there. It will not surprise me if my next vehicle purchase, maybe 5 years from now, is an electric vehicle.

So long as we don’t get distracted by such goofy ideas such as the Chrysler Peapod. Even though I have left the product design and development world behind me, there are somethings that just cry out to be mocked as an example of why the lives of reputable, hard working, customer and client focused innovation folks are harder than they need to be. With a Chief Innovation Officer pushing this kind of “innovation,” it’s no wonder the word leaves such a bad taste in peoples mouths.

PeapodThis is the Chrysler Peapod. Design-wise it is best described as the skull of a hydrocephalic squirrel-monkey grafted onto a Smart Car. It’s simply dreadful and not much to redeem it. This used to be the GEM, and then Chrysler inexplicably brought in Peter Arnell as its Chief Innovation Officer and spun off Peapod with Arnell in charge. Arnell’s history with Chrysler is considerably less than stellar, as he was the creator of a famously disastrous ad campaign for Chrysler that has only recently been eclipsed by his widely reported failures for Pepsi and causing a 20% drop in sales for Tropicana.

But hey, lets get to the important stats of this transportation innovation: How Far, How Fast, How Much?
It is has a top speed of 25 miles per hour!
It is street legal in nearly 40 states!
It can get “up to” 30 miles per charge!
Takes only 6 to 8 hours to charge!
Starts using my Ipod (a need we have all expressed right?
It is illegal to drive on ANY road in ANY state with a posted speed limit exceeding 30 miles per hour!
Looks like the skull of a hydrocephalic squirrel-monkey!
All for $12k! That’s right only $12k for a… umm…um…. Golf cart?
I hope it has a rack on the back for my Segway!

The car has been dubbed an “NEV” for “Neighborhood Electric Vehicle.” Apparently this designation gets around those pesky issues like… um, safety regulations. Renaming an incredibly expensive golf cart to an “NEV” is akin to renaming a Pet Rock to a “Sedentary Lithic Companion” to distract you from the fact it’s just a damn rock. Neither one is a solution to the actual need and desire of people. On top of that other manufactures are already leaping far ahead with vehicles that, while more expensive, provide a much more holistic solution and look a lot like… a car. I know, cars are so 2009. I know what you are saying, I am missing the opportunity to be driving around looking out the eye holes of a squirrel monkeys skull, but I have enough dating problems already. Granted, I have wasted many hours sitting in my car, scrolling through my iPod selections trying to get my car to start with no luck. Usually by the next day I am towed to an impound lot where a helpful officer shows me how to use the same keys I use to open the door to start the car. I remember thinking afterwards “That’s so clever… after my opening the door, my keys are in my hand anyway… I can just put them in that little keyhole thingy on the steering wheel.” My step-mother, being much more technically savvy actually has a little plastic thing in her pocket that she does not even have to take out! Why just walks up, opens the door and drives away! However, there was an Apple store nearby, and maybe that is why the car started… more testing may be needed.

Things like the Peapod that are strictly about one person ego (its PEA for Peter Arnell’s initials) have nothing to do with innovation. But worse, it gives more entrenched technologies something to point at and say why electric can’t work. For the discipline of innovation its ample evidence that innovation is just cotton candy and fairy stories without anything substantial behind it.