The Most Popular People Hauler Gets Electrified
By Larry E. Hall & Michael Coates
It started with rumors in 2013. Then, in May of 2014 in a presentation to analysts, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) said it was planning a Chrysler Town & Country plug-in hybrid minivan that would arrive in 2016. But often times business plans presented two years in advance don’t always materialize. Then came the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and all (the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica) was revealed.
The reports were confirmed, but the Chrysler Town & Country now sports a new name——that will apply to the plug-in version as well as its mainstream cousin. While the standard model will be on sale first, the plug-in version will join it before fall, according to an FCA spokesperson.
The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid will have a 30-mile all-electric driving range and is expected to deliver up to 80 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) on EPA tests. The powertrain centers on a 3.6-liter Atkinson cycle Pentastar V-6 gas engine. It’s mated to a two-motor hybrid system that substitutes for a transmission and operated like an electrified version of a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). A 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is located under the second row of seats, which preserves Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go seating and storage for the third row.
Recharging the Pacific PHEV will take approximately two hours at a 240-volt Level 2 charging station. Pricing will be released closer to the vehicle’s introduction.
Minivan sales in 2014 reached the highest level since 2008, with more than a half million units sold (down from the segment’s heyday when sales were more than double that) and looks to repeat that number for 2015. The Town & Country was the top seller, and when combined with the company’s Dodge Caravan, the two garnered a 48,9 percent market share.
A plug-in hybrid minivan makes a lot of sense when you consider the driving habits of minivan owners; a lot of in-town trips and the occasional longer drives where the hybrid powertrain takes over after the battery in depleted. Plus, the size of a minivan offers a lot of space for batteries.
Introduced as a 1990 model, the current fifth-generation Town & Country has been in production since 2008 and is over due for a full redesign. Adding a plug-in version would give it a competitive edge over its two key competitors, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna — neither of which are offered in higher-mileage hybrid form, let alone a plug-in hybrid. Of course the trick will be to ensure it is affordable.
A Few Details
The replacement for the Town & Country (body code RU) is slightly taller and wider than the current model. The 700C concept displayed at the 2012 Detroit show gave some hints, but the finished product takes the storied people hauler to a new level of style and sophistication. The cabin shows Fiat’s influence. It will feature the company’s Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touch screen along with a “customizable seven-inch display screen in the instrument cluster.” There will be a number of new or updated features, such as foot-activated sliding side doors. FCA managed to keep the popular Stow ‘n Go seats in the third row in the hybrid version while the standard model will remain the capability of going from seating for seven to a completely flat floor.
As for the plug-in capabilities, Fiat Chrysler believes the projected efficiency is in the neighborhood of 80 MPGe (MPGe is an EPA rating that measures the distance a vehicle can travel under electric power on the same amount of energy as contained in one gallon of gasoline) and 30 miles of all-electric range will allow around-town driving without gasoline.
Unlike other large auto manufacturers—Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota—Fiat Chrysler does not have a hybrid in its lineup. The automaker desperately needs vehicles to help meet the
upcoming federal regulations of 54.5 mpg by 2025 and recently revealed even its Jeep lineup will be getting a variety of hybrids ranging from mild to full during the next decade.
While the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in fills a gap in the minivan segment, it contributes very little to company’s need for fuel-efficient vehicles unless its volume explodes.
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