Analysis of this week’s hot rumor: An all-electric Chrysler Pacifica?

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Production of the plug-in hybrid version of the Chrysler Pacifica had just begun a week or so prior, and now comes a rumor that ups the ante. Usually credible Bloomberg and Automotive News report that Chrysler will unveil an all-electric Chrysler Pacifica at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the first week of January 2017, right before the Detroit Auto Show (North American International Auto Show).

So is this true?  An all-electric Chrysler Pacifica, right on the heels of the plug-in hybrid version?

What we know is that FCA has said it will introduce a new vehicle at CES. FCA has not said what this new vehicle is. However, FCA has said something cryptic about it being “a natural” for CES or something like that. That seems to imply something tech-intensive.

Furthermore, it is also true that FCA will as always have a booth at Detroit right after CES. The schedule for that event has not yet been released, but is typically done around mid-December, so basically any day now.

FCA just recently had three major product introductions in the last month:

  • Chrysler Pacifica hybrid (arriving in U.S. dealerships in the next few days or weeks).
  • Jeep Compass (on sale in South America already, and arrives in U.S. by February).
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio (arrives possibly by Summer 2017).

So with all of this news, it may only be natural that FCA doesn’t have anything for which to call a special press conference in Detroit. Maybe the next stop for FCA major product announcements after CES will be the New York Auto Show in the Spring.

As for the FCA reveal at CES, supposedly intelligent speculation before yesterday had it that it would be the Google version of the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid. It would be a test fleet of perhaps 100 or so cars that would be capable of autonomous fleet testing. It would certainly make for a good demo, and it also would make sense from a timeline perspective given what FCA and Google announced last May.

It is also true that FCA’s only all-electric car, the Fiat 500e, is getting a bit long in the tooth. It is no longer competitive, and sells (leases) mostly based on price. I have seen advertised lease prices for the Fiat 500e that look like typos. Yes, they are that low. Google “Fiat 500e lease price” and you will see many references to a $69 per month headline number. Keep in in mind that any money down is at least partially offset by a state cash rebate for whom many buyers may be qualified. California may have expensive real estate, but you can lease an electric car practically for free.

I believe it is almost certain that FCA has not only one pure EV (BEV) in the pipeline for the next 1-4 years, but probably two. The question is only which two they will be, in what kind of body, and exactly how soon and in which sequence they will be made available – and in what precise geographies beyond California, which is a given. Will the Chrysler Pacifica be available as a BEV, this close after the introduction of the plug-in hybrid version? I have no idea, but I have seen crazier ones. I would not bet against it, but I also cannot confirm it.

If it is the Pacifica all-electric, consider that the current plug-in hybrid version has a 16 kWh battery. There is no way FCA ought to want to go to market with such a vehicle without at a rock-bottom minimum of 60 kWh or 70 kWh capacity. Why? Well, the Chevy Bolt is at 60 kWh and the base Tesla Model S is at 60 kWh. The base Tesla Model X is at 75 kWh. A Chrysler Pacifica currently weighs more than the Model S, but less than the Model X. The aerodynamics are not as favorable as any of the two Tesla models. So in reality, an all-electric Chrysler Pacifica ought to have not less than a 75 kWh battery capacity – and preferably more.

But where to fit a 75 kWh battery in the Pacifica without reducing the utility of the minivan? I don’t know a good solution that reaches 75 kWh. You could reclaim the gasoline tank, but that might at best double the battery capacity from 16 kWh to 32 kWh or something like that. Placing an additional battery pack or two in front of the front wheels, or behind the rear ones, would have negative crash test implications, just for starters. I don’t see how any solution escapes having to lift the interior floor, which is not what you want in any vehicle, especially one that advertises its utility such as the market’s leading minivan.

It goes back to how hard it is to convert an existing vehicle from combustion engine to pure battery-electric, as opposed to starting with a clean sheet of paper. It’s a huge dilemma, and if FCA somehow manages to solve it, there’s a Nobel Prize in physics awaiting their engineering team.

Assuming that the Bloomberg story is true – as surprising as it may be, perhaps – it may mean one thing, however: FCA would be able to sell a pure EV with record-large interior space, for a far lower price than a Tesla, Model X or otherwise. You would simply get a huge car – although not as spacious as the “regular” Chrysler Pacifica, for many tens of thousands less than a Tesla.

And that would be interesting in itself.

We’ll find out one way or the other, by early January. The suspense is like waiting for a second Christmas!

At the time of submitting this article for publication, the author was short TSLA and long FCAU, GM, F and GOOGL.  However, positions can change at any time. The author regularly attends new vehicle launches, press conferences and equivalent from most major automakers.

Check out this related TFLcar video of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid: