What happens when you take a perfectly ordinary Chrysler Town & Country minivan and make it a plug-in hybrid? That’s the question Chrysler is asking at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. There are three segments of the automobile market that are as hot as a chili pepper: trucks. SUVs, and minivans. Sure, lots of people turn up their noses at the minivan, labeling it dismissively as a car for “soccer moms.” But when it comes to moving people and things — and lots of both — there is no vehicle ever invented that is better at both than the minivan.
For reasons known only to those who frequent the boardrooms of major car companies, virtually every hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric car on the market today is a sedan. Yes, there are exceptions, but there aren’t many. It just so happens that sedans are about the worst selling cars in America. So, if the objective is to introduce US drivers to the wonders of electric driving, why not offer them cars they want to buy rather than cars they don’t?
Chrysler has heard the call, according to AutoBlog, The company that invented the minivan will bring a plug-in hybrid version of the ubiquitous Chrysler Town & Country to market later this year. They are calling it the Chrysler Pacifica. The word “plug-in” and the initials PHEV appear nowhere on the outside or the inside of the new model. That’s because minivans are meant for mainstream buyers and Chrysler thinks those buyers are scared to death of new technology. The only sign the Chrysler Pacifica is not just another Town & Country is a small door in the left front fender that covers the charging port.
From behind the wheel, the new Pacifica drives exactly like any other Chrysler minivan. Up front is the familiar 3.6 liter Chrysler V-6 engine. The only difference a driver may notice is that the Stow-N-Go center row seats are not available, because the 16 kWh battery is mounted under the floor.
The Pacifica has 30 miles of electric only range. That may not be enough range to keep the gas engine from ever turning on, but it should suffice for much of the go into town, drop the kids off, go to the grocery store chores most minivans spend all day doing. The payoff? The Pacifica has an MPGe rating of 80. That is way more than double the mileage of the standard van. Chrysler says the battery needs only two hours to recharge using a 240 volt Level 2 charger.
Of course, owners will have to plug it in to get that benefit. Many early Chevy Volt owners complained their cars did not get nearly the fuel economy they expected. That’s because they never plugged the cars in. No doubt Chrysler will get a few complaints from Pacifica owners too, before they realize what that little door on the left front fender is for.
If Chrysler can keep the price differential down so it is covered by the federal tax credit, these cars should fly out of showrooms, once the word gets out about how people can go two to three times as far on a gallon of gas as they can with traditional minivans. After that happens, this could be the car that finally takes electric cars mainstream in America.