The Chrysler Town & Country used to be one of the heaviest minivans on the market. It’s successor, the Pacifica, is one of the lightest, after Chrysler put the old T&C chassis on a diet, removing 250 lbs in the process. According to The Detroit Free Press, the lightest Pacifica tips the scales at 4,315 lbs. Here’s how it stacks up against the competition:
- Chrysler Pacifica: 4315 – 4616 pounds
- Nissan Quest: 4,349 — 4,553 pounds
- Honda Odyssey: 4,396 — 4,613 pounds
- Kia Sedona: 4,411 — 4,656 pounds
- Toyota Sienna: 4,415 — 4,553 pounds
“What we decided to do was support the structure where it needed to be reinforced and take away weight everywhere we knew could,” said Jessica LaFond, chief engineer of minivans for FCA. “And then went after just every ounce.” She said engineers used a combination of high strength steel, aluminum, and magnesium at key locations throughout the minivan to either enhance its strength and rigidity or to reduce the weight. “We weren’t willing to sacrifice strength and weight where we needed it,” LaFond said. “So that sort of doubled the challenge for us.”
A big chunk of excess avoirdupois was eliminated by making the sliding doors for the Pacifica out of aluminum instead of steel. The new doors weigh 40 lbs less. Multiply that by two doors and the new car has 80 less heft to haul around. It also saved 8 lbs by making the structural ring around the front doors from 5 pieces of high strength steel welded together. The Pacifica uses 22% more high-strength steel than its predecessor.
Using aluminum knuckles and an aluminum control arm in the front suspension and a magnesium crossbeam inside the instrument panel also helped reduce the weight of the Pacifica. Magnesium is a lightweight but strong metal increasingly popular with automakers looking to shed weight. It is the lightest of all commonly used structural materials according to the International Magnesium Association.
Engineers added reinforcement to the front portion of the Pacifica. The extra steel is designed to help the Pacifica pass the small overlap frontal test — a difficult crash standard adopted a few years ago by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Honda Odyssey became the first minivan to pass the test in 2013. LaFond says she expects the Pacifica to pass the test as well.
The weight loss program for the Pacifica is part of a trend the auto industry calls “lightweighting.” It analyzes the structure of a vehicle and uses lighter and stronger materials wherever possible without compromising safety. Weight is the enemy of high fuel economy with low emissions. Making cars lighter allows manufacturers to use smaller, more efficient engines. For electric cars, less weight improves range. The EPA has rated the new Pacifica at 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined — 10% better than the old Town & Country.
A recent report by the so-called Independent Institute — which is anything but — suggests that more fuel efficient cars will cause people to drive more miles which will result in a spike in deaths and injuries on the nation’s highways. The idea that automakers would deliberately make cars that are less safe just to meet higher fuel economy standards is an argument only a Republican could make with a straight face.
Chrysler has invested a lot of money in the Pacifica. The development process for the new minivan and the improvements made to the Windsor Assembly Plant that will build it accounted cost the company almost $2.6 billion. Does it make sense for Chrysler to sink that kind of money into a shrinking segment of the market? Sales of all minivans have dropped by more than half to just over 500,000 in the U.S. in 2015. That’s down from 1.37 million in 2000.
“Chrysler invented the minivan, and it invested heavily in it, and has dominated the market. It makes sense for Chrysler to stay with it,” said Michele Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader.com. “My big question is how good is the quality going to be. They are going up against two brands [Honda and Toyota] that have great quality…and there is no way of knowing that until it is on the road.”
The Pacifica will be on sale later this year and will be the first minivan in the US to offer shoppers the choice of a plug-in hybrid powertrain sometime in the near future. The base price for a new Pacifica is $29,590. Loaded with all available options, it will list for $43,490, including destination charges. The price of the plug-in hybrid model has not yet been announced.