Once a mainstay on American highways, Chrysler is now driving toward an uncertain future. Its partnership with Daimler-Benz has been replaced by one with Fiat, and while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has kept its head above water (thanks to America’s obsession with pickup trucks and the unyielding power of Jeep brand loyalty), the rest of the business raises more than a few questions. What is Fiat’s true future in the U.S. market? Will Alfa Romeo and its Giulia succeed today after a reputation for unreliability sunk them in 1995? And with only a midsize sedan with a questionable future, a full-size stalwart in a shrinking segment, and the 2017 Pacifica in a crossover-crazy era, can Chrysler stay afloat?
Chrysler unveiled the original Pacifica—what it now calls the first crossover utility vehicle—for the 2004 model year. At that particular moment in history, Chrysler was a major player in the auto industry. The 300 had re-emerged with bold styling as a darling of the full-size segment, the PT Cruiser had yet to grow into the rolling joke it’s known as today, and the Town & Country soldiered on as a staple of suburban driveways. So, when the Pacifica went on to post lackluster sales figures over the next six years, it came as a somewhat surprising blow to the Chrysler brand. The previous Pacifica’s reputation makes you wonder why the company would opt to revive that name for a car so clearly critical to its future.
Fast forward to today: The midsize Chrysler 200 (and its cross-brand stablemate, the Dodge Dart) is on its way out. Or, at the very least, production of the rental-fleet superstar will be taken over by a partnering company. No plans have been announced to cut down the 300, but Sergio Marchionne—the CEO of FCA—is obsessed with economies of scale and recently claimed the Pacifica’s platform could be used in a new 300 application. And therein lies the intrigue. The 2017 Pacifica is the new minivan superstar, and surely its success looms as a critical component (if not an inevitable one) of Chrysler’s resurgence. But beyond that specific model, we have to wonder: How many cars are hiding in the new Chrysler Pacifica?
The public-relations mavens at Chrysler will tout the Pacifica’s “all-new” platform, but what they really mean is it’s a completely different platform than the outgoing Town & Country’s. The Pacifica is built on a version of the Fiat Compact Platform. Designed to work with a range of front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles, FCA builds the 200 and the Pacifica (and the Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Dart) on the same platform in order to cut costs. This isn’t anything new, of course, and it’s not a detriment to either car (if anything, it benefits them). Volvo and Volkswagen have probably trumpeted their modular platforms loudest, but most automakers have adopted this approach. The safe conclusion to draw, however, is that the 2017 Pacifica is only the first of a new generation of Chryslers.
When asked point-blank whether we would see the Chrysler Pacifica’s underpinnings developed for new-car applications, a company spokesman wouldn’t comment on future products (standard operating procedure in the auto business). But the same spokesman also explained that FCA has invested more than $2 billion in the Pacifica and conducted more research in bringing the minivan to production than with any other car in the company’s history. The Pacifica’s coupe de grace is its available hybrid powertrain. FCA has announced the platform has provisions for all-wheel drive, and Sergio Marchionne is steering the company toward high-margin crossovers and SUVs. So how do these pieces foretell the future of Chrysler? If I had to make a bet, I’d put my money on a Pacifica-based hybrid all-wheel-driven crossover.
Will the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica lead to a hybrid all-wheel-drive crossover?