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.