Two things FCA got wrong with the Chrysler Pacifica

So, what exactly went so wrong with the Chrysler Pacifica that it caused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to axe an entire shift at its Windsor Assembly Plant after just two full years of North American sales?

Two things says Toronto-based auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers, who heads up DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

First, its name. Second, its price. Those are “the original criticisms of the Pacifica,” he said.

“It kept the Pacifica name and the original Pacifica was not successful, they dropped it,” DesRosiers said. “Trying to build on the legacy of a product that wasn’t successful was criticized.”

The 2004 Pacifica was an early attempt to strike a compromise between the capability of Jeep SUVs and the comfort of three-row minivans, .

DaimlerChrysler had high hopes for the vehicle. At the 2002 Detroit auto show, where the Pacifica debuted, then-Chrysler design boss Trevor Creed said: “We wanted to come up with the next big thing … a vehicle that did not conform to the traditional proportions of a car, sport-utility or minivan, yet featured their best attributes.”

Great idea, but the execution was lacking. The Pacifica got high marks for design and interior comfort, but despite boasting V-6 engines, the big crossover was underpowered due to lacklustre four-speed transmissions.

U.S. sales remained well below the company’s projected 100,000 annually. The Pacifica peaked at 92,363 in 2004 and had dropped 42 per cent by 2007 to 53,947, when it went out of production. 

 

Fast forward to 2016, the year the Pacifica minivan hit showrooms as a 2017 model at a luxury price in both Canada and the United States, the vehicle’s biggest market.

In the United States, the vehicle was first priced at US$29,590, including shipping. In Canada, it originally started at Cdn$43,995, including shipping. It was priced so high, FCA had to add a cheaper version — starting at $37,995 — shortly after launch.

“Many analysts thought it was overpriced. And that’s a more difficult call in that they tried to put a premium product into a segment and they got caught with the overwhelming acceptance and growth of premium SUVs in a market above them,” DesRosiers explained.

DesRosiers estimates that the Pacifica, with its size and price, competes with up 40 other vehicles at a time when people are flocking to utility vehicles. And Ford is likely about to snatch a segment of Pacifica buyers when the 2020 Explorer goes on sale later this year.

Second- and third-row seats fold flat and can accommodate a 4- by 8-foot sheet of plywood, which wouldn’t fit in the outgoing version and used to be a hallmark owned by minivans. No more, though.

Pacifica sales have never really been as high as sales of the Town and Country, the minivan it replaced in FCA’s lineup.

In 2007, a year before the Great Recession, U.S. sales of the Town and Country hit 138,151 units. They were never near that high again until 2014, when they hit 138,040. Pacifica sales in 2017 and 2018 were 118,274 and 118,332, respectively.

It’s a similar story in Canada where Town and Country sales topped 8,997 in 2015 — the highest sales total in a decade — but Pacifica sales have been 6,185 in 2017 and 5,999 in 2018. 

“I don’t ever like to call something like that a success,” DesRosiers said of the slide. “And obviously it hasn’t worked out like they thought it would. 

“But, companies take these risks and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work out as they thought it would.”

With files from Automotive News.

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