As one gazes at the stylish (for a minivan) 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited, with its three automatic doors and luxurious interior, it takes some hard thinking to recall this gorgeous machine’s humble roots. Roots that could have been at Ford Motor Company, not Chrysler, had not a “pass” been taken by Henry Ford II when presented the first minivan idea by then-Ford executives Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich.
It was the 1970s and turbulent times in the auto biz, as gas prices led to gas lines with the Arab oil embargo that had the whole world on edge. Sperlich had the idea for a flat-floor, front-drive family van that was smaller than the boxy Econolines Ford was cranking out at the time. Iacocca was enthusiastically behind it, but when they presented the “Minimax” to Mr. Ford, he nixed it.
“He was not an innovator when it came to product,” Sperlich said to Automotive News of Henry Ford in 2003. “I don’t want to be too critical. He had a lot of strengths and a lot of weaknesses. I give the guy enormous credit. He came out of the Navy at 27 and took over the company. He saved the company and did a lot of incredible things. But even the Mustang was a tough sell. When we presented that to him, he very reluctantly approved it.”
Sperlich was fired by Ford and went to Chrysler in 1977. By the time Chrysler hired Lee Iacocca 18 months later as its president, Sperlich had plans for a minivan ready to go. First, Chrysler introduced the economical K-cars to make money and meet U.S. corporate fuel-economy standards. That boosted the company significantly, and in 1983 the first minivans — Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager, Chrysler Town & Country — made their debut.
Since that time, some improvements have been made. When this Pacifica made its gas-only debut in 2017, it had fold-into-floor rear seats that allowed the minivan to become a handy moving van. You can still get that feature in the non-hybrid version. The hybrid uses that floor space for some very heavy batteries, which help the vehicle to achieve 33 mpg in combined city/highway driving. Not bad for a seven-passenger 6,300-pound car (gross weight; refers to the car’s total weight with passengers and cargo. Curb weight — in this case 4,987 pounds — is the weight of the vehicle minus any passengers or cargo yet with all the necessary equipment and fuel).
We had all highway driving during our week and enjoyed 30 mpg as a result. They say hybrids can be sluggish when in gas-mode, but this one did not disappoint when passing trucks and needing 75 mph quickly to get it done. In electric-only mode, the Pacifica will travel 32 miles before seamlessly switching to a combination of gas and electric.
Those middle seats that can be removed but not hidden in the floor rival the front captain’s chairs for comfort and adjustability. Each middle seat came with its own video screen in our top-line $50,000 Limited edition, plus its own headphones and remote. The Hybrid Limited starts at $45,000 and goes up quickly with the “S” appearance package ($795), the advanced safety group ($995), the tri-pane panoramic sunroof ($1,795) and the destination charge ($1,395).
The MSRP for the very first minivans was around $9,385, give or take, but they did not offer satellite radio, heated and ventilated front seats, nor a heated steering wheel. That heated wheel, by the way, has a metal strip in it that stays cold for a while in spite of the heating element. It’s probably my biggest complaint about this high-tech wonder that springs from such humble roots, which says a lot.
Clifford Fewel’s AutoFewel column appears each week in the Tri-Valley Dispatch, as well as online at pinalcentral.com/opinion/columns.