Can 2017 Pacifica Minivan Re-Energize Chrysler?

DETROIT (Detroit Free Press/TNS) -
All-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid. (PRNewsFoto/FCA US)
All-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid. (PRNewsFoto/FCA US)

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles wants to dramatically redefine the minivan category with its new Chrysler Pacifica and a hybrid version – two models with enough fresh styling and performance to potentially re-energize a segment that has lost more than half its sales the past 15 years.

FCA dropped the Town & Country name and revealed its new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The automaker surprised the industry by dropping Town & Country and reviving the Pacifica name. The automaker eventually plans to phase out the Dodge Grand Caravan, too.

The name change is a big gamble because the Town & Country name helped Chrysler retain its position as the king of minivans for nearly a quarter century.

“Sure, it is absolutely risky to change the name, but that’s how confident we are,” said Tim Kuniskis, head of Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat. “We wanted to change the name so that you think, ‘This is new. This is fresh. I need to check this out and forget the perception that I had about the previous minivan.'”

The Pacifica ushers in a completely new look that hides its sliding doors and doesn’t even appear to be a minivan at first glance.

“This is a fairly monumental leap. This is no evolutionary change,” said Dave Sullivan, an auto analyst for Auto Pacific who also is a minivan owner. “Inside, the materials … and buttons, switches all feel very nice and very high quality, and they really have gone all-in on rear-seat entertainment.”

Sullivan said it’s clear that the automaker poured every ounce of energy it could into developing a new design and packing the new minivan with innovations that will allow Chrysler to leapfrog the competition for several years.

The Pacifica is equipped with a redesigned 3.6-liter, V-6 Pentastar engine that produces 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque.

The hybrid version will get up to 80 miles per gallon equivalent in city driving. It will be the only plug-in hybrid on the market when it goes on sale later this year. The minivan will go up to 30 miles on electric power when fully charged. When the battery’s energy is depleted, the Pacifica Hybrid becomes a part-time electric vehicle, like a conventional hybrid.

Analysts say the decision to develop a hybrid minivan makes a lot of sense because of the driving habits of minivan owners, and the size of the vehicle offers a lot of space to store the batteries.

“It’s an opportunity because the typical minivan owner – their daily commute is about 30 miles. They take kids to school, run errands, go back home,” said Bruce Velisek director of the Chrysler brand.

The trick will be ensuring it remains affordable. The automaker hasn’t announced pricing for either version.

The development of a plug-in hybrid minivan was a major undertaking for the Detroit-area automaker, which is woefully behind the competition when it comes to hybrids and electric vehicles. While competitors including Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota aggressively developed and launched hybrid and electric cars, FCA held back.

The automaker launched an electric version of the Fiat 500 in 2013 but does not sell a conventional hybrid. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a plug-in hybrid but will simply be marketed as a hybrid, Kuniskis said.

“Customers in this segment buy on functionality. They don’t buy on the technology side of the business, so they’re not really concerned about how it works as long as it works and does exactly what they need it to do,” Kuniskis said.

The Pacifica Hybrid’s battery is located under the second-row floor, keeping the rear cargo area as roomy as ever and preserving the third-row, stowable seating and storage.

The exterior and interior design of Pacifica is a giant leap forward for the automaker that will put it ahead of its main rivals – the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna – said Sullivan, the analyst.

The goal was to create a minivan that looks more like a crossover than a van to overcome the stigma attached to minivans.

“We are not trying to say it’s not a minivan, all we are trying to say is it’s so new, so different and so much of a game changer in that segment,” Kuniskis said.

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

Key Features and Facts About The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Minivan

-A redesigned 3.6-liter, V-6 Pentastar engine that produces 287 horsepower and 262 pound feet of torque.

-Pacifica Hybrid gets up to 80 miles per gallon equivalent in city driving.

-Hybrid powertrain delivers an estimated 248 horsepower with an estimated electric range of 30 miles when the battery is fully charged.

-The battery is located under the second-row floor, keeping the rear cargo area as roomy as ever and preserving the third-row stowable seating and storage.

-Battery can be fully recharged in two hours using a 240-volt plug-in system.

-E-shift rotary dial shifter located on the integrated center console that electronically actuates shift selection. The e-shift system also enables more packaging and design flexibility when compared to mechanical shift systems.

-Two 10-inch high-definition entertainment system screens in the rear.

-Built in Windsor, Ontario.