2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivan: Too Late to be a Game Changer?

One of the brilliant things about Toyota when it built the Legends of Hybrid (Prius/Highlander/RX 450h) is that it had no competition in the that sector.  There wasn’t a reason to do things like, say…make a better looking vehicle.  Save for the Highlander hybrid, the RX 450h and Prius (particularly) were ugly.  They stayed that way because there was no competition to make them better looking.

What could have given the the legends of hybrid a run for the money at the time?  A hybrid minivan.  A hybrid minivan could have provided a viable sales alternative.  A hybrid minivan could have delivered increased MPGs, more cargo space to haul kids, and it would have been easier to get in and out of.  A hybrid minivan would have had a bigger market to draw from; one that cared about saving on gas–er–saving the planet.  Had there been a hybrid minivan back then, I believe it would make sense to think that the market as a whole would be different.

But what makes sense to you and I often doesn’t make sense to car company accountants and analysts.  These types need steady returns and a reliable margin.  Granted, they have a tough job to do; but sometimes this job stifles even the tiniest of innovations.  I understand that minivans still represent a good portion of automakers sales and revenue. To fork these flowing rivers with a hybrid model only opens up the chance for increased costs and sales uncertainty.  Other automakers didn’t make an appreciable move back then, and the Prius became the catchphrase for a hybrid car.

But imagine, if back in the day, what could have been if a hybrid minivan had been in the mix.  One like this new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, introduced at this year’s Detroit Auto Show:



Back in the day, this could have been a game-changer.  I firmly believe it can still leave a broad mark.

Let’s start analyzing the past by taking a look at an older version of the Pacifica, back in 2005:

The 2005 Chrysler Pacifica. Image courtesy of BestCarMag.com

The 2005 Chrysler Pacifica. Image courtesy of BestCarMag.com

This is a cool-looking car, for the segment it was in.  The old Pacificas were much better looking than anything in Toyota’s hybrid lineup.  It was also better looking than anything in Chrysler’s own lineup; or Honda’s, Ford’s or Chevy’s.  It was the forerunner of today’s crossovers, unleashed from the styling chains of traditional minivan styling.  A hybrid powertrain would have been the trifecta-space, economy, style.  I’m thinking that had Chrysler gotten it right back then, this could have given the boys from Detroit, Tokyo, AND Toyota City a run for their money.

These days, I’m not sure if  the new hybrid Pacifica is too late to be a game-changer.  The minivan market isn’t dead.  As long as there will be children, there will be minivans.  Love them or hate them, minivans are a part of life, a rite of passage for young men and women.

Now let’s look at the new hybrid Pacifica.  It is a looker.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Image courtesy of Chrysler.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Image courtesy of Chrysler.

The new Pacifica hybrid offers more space than a RX 450h or Highlander.  Or an Odyssey.  Or a Dodge Grand Caravan.  Or a Kia Sorento.  Or a VW Touran.  Or a lot of crossovers.  In fact, it’s class-leading for interior space.

The Pacifica Hybrid smokes the segment in fuel economy, with 80 mpg(e), as anticipated.

I could keep going on with similar superlative phrases, but why invent when I can tell you directly from Chrysler:

    • Re-engineered from the ground up on an all-new platform for class-leading ride, handling, and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH)

 

    • Delivers class-leading gasoline and hybrid powertrains to the minivan segment, with the Pacifica Hybrid offering up to 80 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) in city driving

 

    • 2017 Chrysler Pacifica brings sculptural styling, beautiful surfacing and highly crafted execution to the minivan segment

 

    • Offers more than 100 standard and available safety and security features, including 360-degree Surround View camera, ParkSense Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Hold and Forward Collision Warning-Plus

 

    • The most technologically equipped of its kind with available all-new Uconnect Theater rear seat entertainment, 8.4-inch touchscreen display and premium audio systems

 

    • Full array of comfort and convenience technologies available, including Stow ‘n Vac integrated vacuum, tri-pane panoramic sunroof, handsfree sliding doors and liftgate and redesigned Stow ‘n Go seating with Stow ‘n Go Assist and Easy Tilt access to the third row

 

Back in the day, the Pacifica started at $24,000 going up to $36,000 for a top-of-the-line model.  It is reasonable to think a hybrid would have been closer to $30-$36k.  That would have made the Chrysler more expensive than the Prius–but you could have fit a Prius and-a-half in the Pacifica.   Here’s where it gets interesting.  The 2006 RX400h started at $42,000.  The 2006 Highlander Hybrid started at $33,000.  A Chrysler hybrid minivan would have given the Prius and the RX/Highlander hybrid series a run for their money.

The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid is powered by two electric motors, one on each axle.  They are mated to a brand new V6 Pentastar engine that generates 248 bhp alone.  You can drive 30 miles on battery power only–not bad for a vehicle that weighs 6,300 pounds.  All of this power is managed by a 9-speed TorqueFlite EVT transmission.

Inside, here’s the scoop on the Pacifica hybrid:

…The all-new Pacifica is engineered and executed to deliver a “vault-like” interior environment with low levels of wind noise, road noise and related vibration/harshness characteristics. Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is standard on all models to further heighten the Chrysler Pacifica’s refinement factor during a comfortable daily commute or an extended road trip with family and friends….

 

…The Pacifica Hybrid delivers all of the style of the gas-powered Pacifica models, with a few changes to distinguish it from the rest of the lineup. The exterior features distinctive badging and a unique front grille pattern and wheel design, and is available in exclusive Silver Teal paint….

 

…The Black/Alloy interior environment with Ice Cave accents and Ice Blue stitching and black piping is exclusive to the Pacifica Hybrid, highlighting its high-tech and environmentally friendly attributes. The instrument panel also features a light to indicate the vehicle’s charging status, which can be seen from outside the vehicle….

 

The only flaw with the Pacifica hybrid?   The Stow-and-Go floor storage is used up by the battery.  Good for ride stability, not so much for additional storage.  But, as flaws go it is not a fatal one.  As well as one that can probably be addressed in future model years.

On the whole, I think the future of the Pacifica hybrid could be quite bright.  That is, provided Chrysler markets the car properly as a premium vehicle offering tangible benefits.  Provided dealer management and sales consultants are properly compensated for the car, and are taught how to sell a hybrid.  That the individual Service Departments are properly trained to fix problems promptly and completely.  If Chrysler can win in these areas on the showroom and service floors, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid could be a success.

 

 

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Sebastian James

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