What's In A Name?
While the official Chrysler rhetoric has it that the Pacifica is a “segment buster,” the accuracy of that statement is open to some dispute, the more so as the vehicles with which Chrysler itself compares it—the Acura MDX, BMW X5, Honda Pilot EX, Toyota Highlander, Buick Rendezvous, and Volvo XC90—are essentially SUVs. Of course, there’s the XC90, which is architecturally more similar to the Pacifica than it is to the others. And those of us with a remembrance of vehicles since at least the early 1960s may look at the Pacifica and think “station wagon.” Those with a more European point of view may look at it and remark, “sport touring vehicle.” But no matter what the Pacifica is called, the essential thing to know about it is that Chrysler will have a winner on its hands. The company that made its name during the last 10 years or so because of its design chops—which, arguably, it seemed to let wane (there was the PT Cruiser and then. . .what?—seems to be putting its competitors, especially those across town from Auburn Hills, on notice that its designers are back, doing things differently. Which is to say that they are back to their old, rare form. Although it is claimed that the Pacifica isn’t named after the Chrysler design studio of that self-same name, the Pacifica (and the Crossfire sports coupe) clearly mark the Return of Design at Chrysler, this time under the direction of senior vice president of Design, Trevor Creed.
What's Next? Creed uses a term that is perhaps more telling of the Pacifica. He says, “When we started working on this project, our objective was clear. We wanted to design what we call the ‘NBT’ or the next big thing.” Arguably, when the PT Cruiser first rolled out, it qualified as a BT. Creed continues, “We wanted to design a vehicle unlike any other in the marketplace—a vehicle that didn’t conform to the traditional proportions of a car, sport-utility vehicle or minivan, yet featured their best attributes.”
So let’s consider proportions.
All of which simply indicate that dimensionally, the Pacifica is closest to the MDX, but still in its own space.
Once you know that the Pacifica is being built at the Windsor (Ontario) Assembly Plant, and once you say to yourself, “Hmm, that’s where they build Chrysler and Dodge minivans” and begin to think that the Pacifica is essentially nothing more than a truncated minivan, then these figures emerge for the Chrysler Voyager with a short wheelbase:
- Length 189.1 in.
- Width 78.6 in.
- Height 68.9 in
- Wheelbase 113.3 in.
- Track (frt/rr) 63/64 in.
What's Happening? Which indicates that the Pacifica is on a different platform. And it is. Yet you may recall that the Chrysler Group is, like other vehicle manufacturers, looking for thrift. It wasn’t just a matter of putting the Pacifica into Windsor and then adding the equipment to make it. Rather, the underbody framing and panel lines, paint system, and final assembly between the Pacifica and the minivans are shared. Back in July 2000, when the RS minivan went into production, Frank J. Ewasyshyn, now senior vice president, Advance Manufacturing Engineering, DaimlerChrysler, indicated that the plant was built so that two completely different vehicles could be processed. Part of the way this is accomplished is through the use of a flexible pallet system in the facility. Ewasyshyn explains that essentially, whatever can fit on the pallet can be processed in the plant. (The system is also used at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant [where the Chrysler Sebring hardtop and convertible and the Dodge Stratus are produced] and the Toledo North Assembly Plant [home of the Jeep Liberty and where the Wrangler is also built].) Not only is it a matter of pallets, but Ewasyshyn points out that they are now standardizing on the way that vehicles are put together. The pieces may be different, but the sequences are the same. All of which means that there is probably more flexibility here than meets the eye. And that means that there is the possibility that Chrysler Manufacturing is positioning itself so that when Chrysler Design comes to it with the NBT, they are ready to respond in a reasonable time frame (and nowadays “reasonable” means “with alacrity”).
One more thing: By having this flexible strategy deployed at Windsor Assembly, the company is savings some $100-million on the production launch. Thrifty like a fox. (They did, of course, have to spend money. About $300 million in the plant to prepare for Pacifica.)
What Is It? OK. So there’s the Pacifica. A segment buster. A NBT. Whatever. Something with proportions that don’t resemble (exactly) anything out there. A vehicle that Windsor Assembly can build at the rate of 100,000 per year. Of course, that number is probably mutable. That is, the annual capacity of the plant is 335,000. Presumably, if there was a fall-off in the purchase of minivans, Pacifica would take up the slack. Which begs the question: Won’t people go for the Pacifica in lieu of, say, a Chrysler Town & Country? After all, here’s a vehicle with three rows of seats. There is command-style seating: good sight lines. There’s a full-length center console that extends back toward the second row; there are cupholders and other integrated containers galore. The second and third rows fold down so that they’re somewhat flat. A vehicle with a 3.5-liter V6—an engine derived from the one that’s powering the Chrysler 300M. (Pacifica’s provides 250 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque @ 3,950 rpm.) Estimated fuel economy is 17 city/22 highway. There are power-adjustable pedals with memory. Four-wheel ABS. And on it goes. This is a vehicle that is indicative of Chrysler’s drive to become more of a “premium” marquee. Given that it has the (comparatively) low center of gravity of a car, the “protection” of an SUV (three-row, ceiling-mounted side airbags are standard), and the flexibility of a minivan, won’t the minivan suffer? Tom Marinelli, vp of Chrysler Marketing, isn’t particularly concerned about that: “Every year, more than 2.7 million people move in and out of sport utility vehicles, minivans and sedans, which provides a great opportunity for Pacifica.” In other words, people are churning in and out of vehicles, looking for something else . . . and they may find the next big thing.