Dodge ZEO

Car of the Day #96: 2008 Dodge ZEO

Dodge ZEO
2008 Dodge ZEO concept • via Stellantis

I often wonder this about car designers: how pissed off do they get?

How many therapist sessions, psychological evaluations, “sick days,” and maladaptive coping mechanisms does it take to be orl korrect long enough to build a meaningful design career, with many (many) more of their sketches and designs tossed aside instead of being turned into real cars?

Sixteen years ago, mere months before bankruptcy, Dodge showed off an all-electric fastback wagon concept car with suicide scissor doors, LEDs all over its grille, 23-inch wheels, cameras for mirrors, and an unmistakably muscular ‘Dodge’ look.

Remember it? Nerd. Forgotten it? You’re not alone.

Inside, a fixed hub steering wheel greets its driver, with acres of white draped over low-slung bucket seats like freshly fallen snow, a central spanning console, and a full-length sunroof to keep this 3-box hot and well-lit.

ZEO’s highly-regarded designer, Bill Zheng, still works at the Pentastar but is now stationed in China as Head of Design for China, India and Asia Pacific at Stellantis. 

It’s important for you (and me) to remember that concept cars fill a number of different roles for car companies — specifically, one of their main roles is often to not be built and/or sold as a production car.

More on this in a second.

In recent years, as challenges surrounding electrification have repeatedly swooped in and shocked automaker boardrooms, Chinese automakers have been — let me use a sweeping generalization here — rapidly encroaching on “Western” styling themes and innovations.

Want a fastback, electric GT car with rear suicide butterfly doors and a touchscreen large enough to surf on? Now in 2024, there are a half dozen Chinese EVs that could fit the bill in some way, from the HiPhi X to the Ji Yue 01 Robocar and the ZEEKR 001. 

Against that competition, I think you’ll agree that this Dodge is actually quite contemporary — hell, with 30% more rope lighting it could pass for a Mercedes-EQ-whatever.

• via Stellantis

Lacking a modern infotainment system and saddled with 2000s “EV math” regarding an overly optimistic spec sheet (lithium ion battery pack of unknown capacity, single rear 200 kW motor, 250 mile range, ~2,700-lb curb weight, 0-60 in 5.7 seconds), the ZEO concept car’s attributes could be easily improved with modern-day EV components.

Would a modern-day ZEO sell? Sure — if the price was right. 

Would I be pissed off as a car designer, watching as other manufacturers commercialized my once concept-only ideas? Maybe. Would I be pissed to watch the automaker I work for descending into pickup truck madness, no matter how compelling its smaller car concepts are? Absolutely.

Not all concept cars become reality. As a writer, not all of my amazing ideas become stories, and I’ve learned ways to deal with that. 

Thing is: the ideas that fuel us are timeless, eternally in a state of limbo, parked and waiting to face the crucible of reality.

I do know this: a ZEO-sized 4-seat Dodge hatchback EV with dramatic proportions wouldn’t have sold well in 2008 — but in 2024, its vibe and attributes are both familiar and fashionable.

Enjoy pouring over the press photos, below.

2008 Dodge ZEO interior • via Stellantis
2008 Dodge ZEO front seats and dashboard • via Stellantis


Thank you to my supporting members: Ben B., Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Damian S., Daniel P., Drew M., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam G., Sam L., Wiley H.