One of the most interesting concepts for the Dodge brand in the early 2000s had to be the Dodge PowerBox Concept. While the SUV and crossover segment is big now, it was fastly gaining momentum in the early 2000s. With the Dodge brand’s success of the larger than midsize Dodge Durango, the brand looks towards an even bigger SUV. Their answer, the Dodge PowerBox Concept. The PowerBox Concept showcased future technology with an edgy design that hinted at what was to come for the Durango a few years after.
Unveiled at the 2001 Los Angeles Auto Show, the PowerBox Concept provided the performance of a V8 engine, but with 60% better fuel efficiency than other SUVs of the time. PowerBox’s hybrid powertrain draws power from two different sources. The concept introduced a CNG-electric hybrid SUV, with patented ‘through-the-road’ (TTR) technology.
With near-zero-emissions, the PowerBox Concept featured a supercharged 2.7-liter V6 engine (similar to the 2001 Chrysler Crossfire Concept) mated with an automatic transmission driving the rear wheels. The supercharged V6 could run on clean compressed natural gas (CNG) and made 250 horsepower (187 kW).
Powering the front wheels, a 70 horsepower (52 kW) Siemens Automotive electric motor, the CNG engine during acceleration and recaptured energy normally lost during deceleration. The engine and electric motor were not coupled in any way and were connected only through the road, hence the name for the patented technology.
Designed by Mark Allen (Head of Jeep® Design), who at the time was a Senior Designer on the Jeep® and Dodge Truck teams, evolved the muscular “all Dodge” design he had originally created in the successful 1999 Dodge Power Wagon concept vehicle into a package for an SUV.
“The exterior design elements express the strength of the brand,” said Allen. “It is instantly recognizable as a Dodge. From its large, separate drop fenders based on the classic 1946 Power Wagon, to the crosshair grille, this truck is bold, powerful and capable. We refer to it as the Dodge DNA.”
Dodge PowerBox had all the performance of a big displacement V8 engine plus the fuel efficiency of a small, supercharged CNG engine. As a super ultra-low-emission vehicle (SULEV), the PowerBox hybrid had a range of more than 350 miles (563 km), triple the mileage of most CNG vehicles at the time and even more than most conventional sedans of the period.
Compared with a conventional first-generation Dodge Durango, the PowerBox projected an achieved 25 mpg (9 liters/100km) resulting in a 60% increase in fuel economy without sacrificing horsepower. Off the starting line, the PowerBox could run from 0-60 mph (97 kph) in about 7 seconds.
Another technological highlight was PowerBox’s body construction, which consisted of a lightweight recyclable thermoplastic. This injection-molded body technology was found in several other Chrysler Group concept vehicles of the time period.
Joel Baccus, who was the PowerBox’s Senior Interior Designer, created an interior that reflected the bold design of the vehicle’s exterior while providing a natural and inviting atmosphere. Inspired by a desert photograph, the PowerBox Concept used an interior color palette of an outdoor-like environment and utilizing the natural colors of a red rock canyon.
“We set out to design a warm, domestic interior space that would balance the power and ruggedness of the exterior design,” he said. “Something that would feel more like home furnishings.”
Featuring a straightforward instrument panel design spans from door to door the interior created a sense of simplicity. High seating positions offered the driver command of the road while PowerBox’s “kneel-down suspension” provides ease of entry and exit for both driver and passengers. The vehicle could drop three inches (76 mm) after being placed in “Park”.
The PowerBox Concept also featured occupant restraint belts integrated into the seats providing a totally open and clutter-free zone. A pair of swing-slide rear doors maximized passenger accessibility and provided easy access to the rear storage area, thanks to the B-pillar being integrated into the swing-slide door. The door was latched at the top and bottom providing the same strength as a traditional middle latch.
Another innovative feature on PowerBox was the “lift-tail-combo gate.” The patented configuration made loading and unloading even easier. Using a tailgate within a liftgate design, one could choose to lift the tailgate up or drop the tailgate down for extended cargo length.
Being able to seat eight passengers, the PowerBox’s backseats could fold down flush with the rear cargo floor for increased space and cargo-hauling capability. With the rear seats folded flat, the vehicle could have up to seven feet in cargo length.
For reference, when compared to the current third-generation Dodge Durango, the PowerBox Concept was 1.2-inches wider, had a 5.2-inch longer wheelbase, and was 6.7-inches shorter.
While the second-generation Dodge Durango borrowed some styling elements from the PowerBox Concept, it wouldn’t maintain the edgy look of the concept and many people were up in arms about how the production vehicle turned out. However, in a world of hybrid SUVs, the PowerBox was way ahead of its time.