FCA’s Pacifica Hybrid could be harbinger for Ram hybrid pickup

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Updated Aug 2, 2017
Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with Waymo self-driving technology.Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with Waymo self-driving technology.

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle or PHEV, has been making some waves in the mini-van segment for its low emissions and impressive fuel savings, but it’s also attracting attention from fleets as Hard Working Trucks learned recently.

The Pacifica Hybrid, the nation’s first hybrid mini-van, hit the road in April. In its recent June sales report, FCA reported that sales for Pacifica had skyrocketed 59 percent over June 2016.

While FCA didn’t divide those figures into hybrid and non-hybrid sales, it’s still a big attention-getter and more than likely confirmation that the brand’s dual-fuel van is catching on—and not just with soccer moms.

“Fleet sales have just started so only one order—to a company in the hi-tech industry—has shipped,” said Ralph Kisiel, FCA’s sales and dealer network media relations manager.

So we know that Google’s Waymo put 500 self-driving Pacifica Hybrids to work in Phoenix carting around plenty of people who signed up online for its trial runs. Waymo has been working closely with FCA and plans on adding 500 more hybrid vans to its autonomous program. It will be interesting to see if the vehicles begin taking on delivery jobs.

Talk about high-tech mobility with broad appeal. Instead of hitting the metro areas and going after green-minded urbanites or anyone who wants a ride, FCA and Waymo are hitting the suburbs big-time where busy, appreciative and talented families thrive. Positive headlines keep coming for Pacifica Hybrid in the Southwest, including recent news that the vans passed tough Death Valley heat tests. Such news continues to attract orders—and not just from the suburbs.

“We have orders from the commercial sector and from government,” Kiesel said. “Early interest in the hybrid has been from companies in the hi-tech, utilities, hospitality, and window replacement industries, to name a few.”

Kisiel said fuel savings is not the biggest draw for the Pacifica Hybrid, and it’s still too early to tell if upfitters will really start poking and prodding.

“MPG is always a big draw for the commercial sector, but based on our field sales team feedback, the main point of interest for PHEV appears to be the ‘green’ factor,” he said. “As for upfitters, I suspect there are not many involved with PHEV at this early stage since most commercial customers appear primarily interested in using the vehicle for people movement.”

To date, the Pacifica Hybrid is the largest hybrid offered by any OEM in the U.S. Its curb weight of 4,943 pounds easily exceeds the max curb weight of a 2017 Chevy Colorado by nearly two hundred pounds.

The dimensions aren’t too far off either. A Colorado, depending on the configuration is anywhere from 212-225-inches long, 74-77-inches wide and 70-72-inches high. The Pacifica Hybrid is 204 inches long, 80 inches wide and 70 inches high.

When the Pacifica Hybrid’s V6 kicks in, it provides up to 260 horsepower. Only one of three engines offered for the Colorado offers more ponies: the 3.5-liter V6 at 308 horsepower.

So, it’s intriguing…Mike Manley, head of Ram, said last year that getting back into the midsize pickup segment presented “a big opportunity for the brand.” Others agree, I’m sure. So, why not sweeten the deal by offering a hybrid powertrain in a midsize pickup?

Ford plans to roll-out a hybrid F-150 in 2020, and its midsize Ranger will be making its re-debut next year.

Ram could get a leg up by offering a PHEV midsize truck. Better yet? A diesel hybrid. Hino offers one in its 195h cabover. Put one in a mid or full-size truck and see what happens. It will help win over conventional motor heads. You’ve got the best of both worlds: big torque numbers with diesel paired up with even bigger torque in electric.

(Don’t think that FCA has given up on diesel. A report emerged last week that diesel Ram 1500 trucks were back in production, albeit without the EcoDiesel moniker).

An electric powertrain provides huge amounts of torque—so much that it will burn way too much rubber if not properly governed. So, you’ve got to lead with that kind of capability to win over skeptics.

And that’s where I get concerned.

Unlike its non-hybrid sibling, FCA does not recommend that the Pacifica Hybrid be used for towing. So, it may be that FCA does not have a hybrid powertrain ready for a pickup. Or maybe it does tucked away in the skunk works.

I’m sure hoping for the latter.