FCA purchased emissions credits at of the end of 2014 in order to meet US emissions regulations. Their new minivan may soon change their need to do the same in the future.

I love minivans. There, I’ve said it.

I know our millennial readers shudder at that statement and so do (did?) automakers. But, as a father of three, the sliding doors and efficient space for packing soccer teams or baseball gear are more than just a little convenient. The flip-down seats are amazing when making a weekly Costco run – and the entertainment package (it’s really worth the price) is remarkable at keeping kids distracted and quiet for the ride.

The only thing that was holding me back from purchasing one was the extreme lack of design focus.

  • 4 wheels – check
  • Sliding doors – check
  • Underwhelming box-like design cue – check.

PacificaWhat’s new with minivans?
Enter the new Pacifica (I actually had the original Pacifica in the family a while back… a product that was ahead of its time by a design cycle, but I digress). This is a minivan that finally looks like a really cool crossover utility vehicle (CUV). Competing Honda and Toyota products have looked that way for some time now, but the new Pacifica is not sore on the eyes, and that is really saying something in the minivan world.

Technology has always surrounded minivans—mostly the aforementioned entertainment and power doors (which are so much more awesome than regular doors). This year at the North American International Auto Show, the folks at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) showed something new: a plug-in minivan!
I know, right? Cool powertrain technology should be reserved for the driving elite and ridiculously wealthy. Thirty miles of pure electric range and then it switches to a hybrid gas/electric driving mode – that is something few vehicles in the world can do. What the heck is FCA doing? Given the fact that they sell a fair amount of minivans, and soccer moms (and me) tend to drive only a handful of miles a day, this technology might not only be really cool (Elon Musk is a James Bond bad guy, right?) but may also make sense for the entire market.

Packaging seems to be done efficiently; albeit with the removal of the second row stow-and-go seats and a two-hour recharging time, it should be no problem to deal with during the kids’ afternoon nap. Couple that with the economic payback – the IRS will give you $7,500 for choosing the plug-in option – and this seems to be a no-brainer option for the family people hauler.

Why did it take so long for this powertrain to get to market, and why is FCA the one introducing it?
There’s a little bit of a strange engine under the hood. One would think Chrysler would go for maximum fuel economy and use a 4-cylinder, but they dropped in a modified version (Atkinson cycle) of the same 3.6L they used in the base vehicle. This would seem to indicate that the engine is driving the wheels at some point (the hardcore EV people really hate this for some reason – see Chevy Volt for their ire), so be prepared for the “it’s not really an EV” argument to pop up soon. With limited availability of the plugin powertrain in the first year, it sounds like they’ll be having the same “problem” they had with the diesel Ram.

The dirty little secret is that Chrysler (people who live in Detroit still call FCA “Chrysler”) sells a lot of V8 engines in the truck segment (That thing got a Hemi? Yep.). This product mix forces them to pay their competitors for credits to get into compliance. That seems like a pretty good stick to motivate an ultra-conservative corporation to move. I think the days of paying the competition will be over soon…

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