Chrysler Reveals Details Of Its Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid Minivan.


Thirty years ago, Chrysler took its uninspired little K Car and turned it into the world’s first minivan. It was crude but it was awfully good at transporting people and things in a way no passenger car ever could before. Over the years, sales grew and grew and grew. The minivan may actually have saved Chrysler from bankruptcy at that time.

It didn’t take other companies long to notice the success of the Plymouth Voyager/Dodge Caravan twins. They wanted in on the action. Soon General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Honda were bringing larger vehicles with more room and more comfort to market. Chrysler started slipping backwards in a market segment it created.

Starting about 2 and half years ago, Chrysler management told its engineers to go back to the drawing board and try to capture lightning in a bottle once again. They came up with an entirely new car that is longer, lower, and wider than ever before. It is so wide, in  fact, there is now room in the rear for three passengers. Add the optional middle seat in the center and you have a vehicle that can carry 8 passengers — an industry first. It’s hard to imagine the word “minivan” even applies any more. These vehicles have gotten huge and the new Pacifica is the biggest of then all.

In addition to all the creature comforts, infotainment options, and electronic safety systems baked in to the new Pacifica, Chrysler engineers have included a plug-in hybrid option. It slides a 16 kWh battery underneath the floor pan and connects it to an electric drive unit installed where the 9 speed automatic transmission usually goes. It features dual motors that can be clutched together to provide a satisfying amount of torque to move the car forward.

The concept is much like that used by Chevrolet in its Volt. Yes, there is an internal combustion engine onboard, but its primary purpose is to act as a generator to replenish the battery. It is not coupled directly to the driven wheels unless full throttle acceleration is called for. Chrysler engineers chose to use a slightly de-tuned version of the standard Pentastar V-6 engine because it can provide all the electricity the Pacific requires at lower engine speeds than a 4 cylinder engine could. That makes it unobtrusive from inside the car when it gets switched on.

Chrysler has gone to great lengths to disguise the fact that its new model is a plug-in hybrid. According to Green Car Reports, Toyota says its market research shows van buyers have no interest in hybrids or plug-in hybrids. Chrylser doesn’t want to scare any folks away who might be uncomfortable with new technology.

Van buyers are very mainstream folks who are about as far away from being early adopters as you can get. They care about taking the entire family and a few of their kids’ friends to school, the beach, sporting events, and recitals in safety and comfort. The rear seats even have an “Are we there yet?” app that lets those in back keep track of exactly how long it will take to go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.

The Pacifica Hybrid will go up to 30 miles on battery power alone. Chrysler engineers say that is more than most van families drive on a typical day. That means if they plug in at night, the gasoline engine may get used sparingly. The EPA rates the car at 80 MPGe, which is about triple what a typical van gets in urban driving. The battery can be recharged in about 2 hours using a 240 volt Level 2 charger. Chrysler decided not to equip the car with DC fast charging capability because its demographic research indicated its customer would use that feature very seldom.

The Pacifica is what it is — a highly efficient, thoroughly modern, jumbo economy size people mover for families with lots of people to move. Cup holders and storage compartments are scattered throughout the interior. Up front, the infotainment system features a USB input so you can download movies and other media from your smartphone. It is, without a doubt, the best minivan ever made, with copious amounts of room inside for people, back packs, diaper bags, strollers, camping gear and all the other stuff Americans like to take along wherever they go.

Chrysler has modest expectations for the car. It says it will be happy if it sells 5,000 of them a year. But just in case, it is prepared to crank up production if the Pacifica Hybrid becomes a hot seller. Actually, strong sales could very well be the result of all Chrysler’s creative thinking and attention to satisfying the demands of its customers. It may be the perfect not-so-mini minivan. To get a better idea of Chrysler’s target audience for the Pacific Hybrid, watch this video.

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • t_

    A good Idea. If they set a reasonable price, may be many people would buy a minivan, that’s almost 2Xcheaper to operate.

  • t_

    actually much cheaper

  • Steve Hanley

    Pricing will be key, no doubt about it. Recently, someone asked Sergio Marchionne if Chrysler will lose money on the Pacifica Hybrid the way it does on the Fiat 500e. His answer was, “Hell, no!”

    Chrysler is being smart about this. A car must have at least a 16 kWh battery to qualify for the maximum federal tax credit of $7,500. My guess is the Pacifica Hybrid will be priced — you guessed it — $7,500 more than the conventional model. Subtract the tax credit and the price will be the same…..assuming the buyer actually has a $7,500 tax liability in the year of purchase.

    • evfan

      I agree that Chrysler plans to bank the Federal incentive of $7500, plus the state incentives, plus some more. My guess is this vehicle is $12500 more than an ICE minivan. If Chrysler only plans to sell 5000 units, it is because they know it will be pricey.

    • t_

      If it’s price is the same after some tax breaks, then it is the real deal. Who would not buy a car for the same price, that costs at least 2 times less to drive?(I calculate also the cost of electricity)This is a very “human” argument, so it can be well marketed with people, who do not care or even fear new technologies.

    • AaronD12

      For those of us without $7500 in tax liabilities, those tax credits are passed along to the company when you lease a vehicle. That might be the best bet, especially since this is gen 1 of this new model.

      As far as having “zero interest” in a hybrid minivan, I’m happy being in that 0% category. 😉

      • Steve Hanley

        My daughter who has 2 kids and a Subaru Tribeca. She says her car is cramped and gets lousy gas mileage.

        When I told her about the Pacifica, her eyes lit up. Of course, no one knows what the price will be, but if it is reasonable, I think Chrysler could find there is a lot of interest in this car.

  • timclaes

    “Add the optional middle seat in the center and you have a vehicle that can carry 8 passengers — an industry first”

    Not sure if I am misunderstand but there are already tons of minivans that seat 8. The best sellers i.e. Odyssey & Sienna, and tons of others as well.

    • Wallace

      First 8 passenger plug in electric hybrid vehicle.

    • Steve Hanley

      Perhaps I am not as keen an observer of the minivan world as I should be. I honesty did not know that. But now I do! Thanks.

  • Jim Seko

    Let me get this straight: Potential minivan buyers are afraid of new technology but are totally OK with catastrophic climate change? Minivan owners typically have young children but they don’t care about the world their children will inherit? Just how stupid are these people?

  • Mauricio Castro

    We have a Dodge Caliber that the wife and I enjoy. When we looked at vehicles before our baby was born we stayed away from mini vans. But when we saw this being revealed we fell in love with it and really want one. This was before finding out their is a hybrid version. I think Chrysler could have a hit on their hands if the price is right. My wife and I are 31.

  • Seats 8. Not an industry first. My 2007 Toyota Sienna van has the option of seating 8 with a middle bench. Maybe you should do your research before writing your article.