Mother Knows Best

America’s prime mover.

Image: Chrysler Capital

As a brand, modern day Chrysler has become something of an oddity. In the United States, they currently offer two vehicles, and once the soon to depart 300 shuffles off, a rather svelte mover of (mainly) families will (for the present at least) ply the Pentastar’s trade alone – the Chrysler Pacifica.

To ascertain the background to this vehicle, we must first travel back to the 1999 Washington DC Auto Show, when the striking Chrysler Citadel Concept was revealed to the world. A fusion of estate car and SUV, this hybrid-hybrid garnered plenty of pre-millennial attention. Chrysler boasted of Citadel’s blend of body styles, with 19” front wheels and twenties aft, assisting its arresting wedge-like profile. Up front lay the ubiquitous 3.5 litre Pentastar V6 producing 250 bhp to those larger rear tyres. In addition, Siemens, provided another hybridised 70 bhp heading nose-ward for a true 4WD which Chrysler claimed offered V8 performance with V6 economy.

1999 Chrysler Citadel concept. Image: Old Concept Cars

Other concept ideas included sliding rear doors with an integrated B-pillar, along with a split boot lid that retracted into the floor. Production was not a priority however, and the Citadel concept was quietly dropped, only to return, heavily transformed into the initial, Freeman Thomas designed Pacifica.

Built in Windsor, Ontario from 2003, the straightforward boxy Pacifica crossover gained plaudits for its car-like ride, handling and steering. Measuring just shy of 200” long on a 116” wheelbase, waters were rippled by thirsty and unreliable engines, something which Chrysler seemed reluctant to address, hampering sales, and sullying its reputation. Despite these issues, the Pacifica attained 150,000 sales in the States over its first two years. The final vehicle left the Canadian factory on November 3rd 2007 with the final few sold in 2009 with a grand total of 393,471 built.

With the Pacifica cast adrift, the Dodge Journey was briefly pressed into service as its replacement. However, in 2015, then FCA Head of Passenger Car Brands, Tim Kuniskis, let slip that a new, unrelated Pacifica would surface as “you don’t want to lose names. Establishing new names is expensive.” Debuting at 2016’s Detroit Auto Show, Director of Brand Product, Bruce Velisek told anyone who would listen that the Pacifica “will change the paradigm of what people know about segment minivans.”

Image: techradar

A more down to earth approach however could be gleaned from designer Irina Zavatski. The determined Zavatski’s back story is inspiring. Evading the crumbling Soviet regime and emergent civil war in Tajikistan, the family headed to South Eculid, Ohio in 1994. Then aged fifteen and speaking no English, Zavatski learned the language through watching TV and observing class mates, taking refuge in artwork.

Art was my language escape. My brother loved to build model cars and when he was out I’d play with and study them.” Finding your vocation (and vocabulary) maybe one thing, convincing parents quite another. “Artists starve, you’re not going to art school,” was her father’s initial response. Now fluent in English and with a convincing argument, she entered the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) under their Transportation Design program. After many internships, including a spell with GM, the Pentastar not only recognised but encouraged her endeavours, her work catching the eye of Ralph Gilles, FCA’s Global Design chief.

Gilles fondly remembers bringing Irina “straight out the CIA and watched her grow. She became involved with the new minivan project immediately. She had a clean sheet.” Something which every designer must relish. “There’s not an inch of that vehicle I did not touch”, she states. She describes her style as very simple; three or four main body lines, small details. “I’m not from around here. I bring something new to the table.” She continues, “being a mother of two kids under nine, the fact I drive a Pacifica and know how useful the car is to me and my family is very important. I want to keep that functionality but also make it beautiful. This is a very personal vehicle to me. I wanted to make mom’s proud of driving this.

Irina Zavatski. Image: Cleveland Institute of Art

Car and Driver clearly had similar thoughts, considering the Pacifica to be “one of the best van looking bodies ever plopped atop four wheels.” Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for IHS Automotive agreed. “They have come out with something that is really in tune with the needs of families, and they have done a really great job with exterior styling—it looks great on the road.” Awards aplenty would follow with sales figures confirming the investment. 2016 saw 62,000 sold, with that number practically doubling for both ‘17 and ‘18. Since then, Chrysler have sold almost 100,000 per annum. For our American brethren, the Pacifica is the SUV alternative.

Pacifica comes powered with two options; the venerable 3.6litre Pentastar V6 or a plug-in hybrid version. Both are front engined and front-driven. 2020 saw the introduction of an AWD Launch Edition with rearward power derived electrically.

Dimensionally, the Pacifica is no shrinking violet. Wheelbase measures 121.6” (3,089 mm) with a length of 203.6” (5,171 mm). At almost 70” (1,775 mm) tall along with a width of 80” (2 metres), the avoirdupois tips 4,330 lbs (1,964 Kgs) with hybrids gaining an extra six hundred pounds (300 Kgs). Those sipping sans plomb have a nine speed automatic. The rack and pinion is electrically assisted but not speed sensitive. Struts make up the forward suspension, trailing arms aft.

The exterior remains bold and sophisticated whereas the interior requires deeper involvement to understand its preordained functionality. STOW ‘n GO seating® performs exactly as it sounds. Petrol driven models can muster 243 configurations. Space consumed by hybrid batteries drop that figure to 81. The plethora of storage bins must cause headaches when faced with finding that favourite toy or parent’s credit card. 

The seats, especially in quilted caramel nappa leather appear most inviting. Second row occupants receive leather cushions. A suede headliner above mirrors the luxuriant Berber carpet underfoot. And when the crumbs tip the vehicle’s weight over weak bridge thresholds, the STOW ’n VAC® integrated vacuum will have things ship shape in no time.

Image: newchryslermodel

Other party tricks include hands free rear sliding doors (aluminium) opening along with the foot dancing opening tailgate. Technology specifications mirrors that of rivals. The FAMCAM© allows observation of rear passengers, regardless of age. Chrysler rightfully acknowledges the standard safety devices over minivan (such a misnomer) and utility adversaries.

The American family has a watchful mother hauling them, at a price they appear more than happy to accept.

Having subsequently been appointed Exterior Design Manager for brand-JEEP, Zavatski is currently Design VP for Chrysler.

Data Sources: Cleveland Institute of Art/ interview with Irina Zavatski 30/03/16.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

13 thoughts on “Mother Knows Best”

  1. Good morning Andrew. My goodness, your piece is a reminder of the parlous state of Chrysler as an automotive brand. It will shortly be pretty much the US equivalent of Lancia, limping along on a single model. Chrysler’s US sales in 2021 were just 115k, a market share of 0.76%.

    Dodge, shorn of its RAM pick-ups, is not in much better shape. The Charger sedan and Challenger coupé, although still attractive, are pretty geriatric. That leaves only the Durango and Hornet crossovers. Dodge’s US sales in 2021 were 216k vehicles, a market share of just 1.4%, down from almost 3.3% in 2009, the year RAM was hived off.

    Perhaps the decision has already been made within Stellantis that Jeep and RAM are its only US brands with a viable future? What a tragedy.

    1. It’s not going to make me any friends, but Stellantis really needs to cull its brands. Chrysler and Lancia probably should go when their current models reach the end of their lives. It’s hard to see either being successfully rebuilt.

    2. It costs them nothing to keep Chrysler and Dodge because the dealerships are already combined with Jeep/Ram, and they have already curated specific images for each brand. Stellantis’ Italian brands are a different matter.

  2. The Pacifica is very US-centric and I am not, so I rarely consider it. It does seem to me to be a nice design, given that it is difficult to make an MPV really attractive (though it’s still more doable than for an SUV). I think the original Espace, the IV and Ford’s S-Max are the most succesful designs:

    From what I’ve seen Chrysler’s output has been under the radar, but quietly respectable, without being very exciting (or at all succesfull). Offloading the pickups and SUVs into RAM and Jeep has made Chrysler and Dodge fully irrelevant, though. That was long before Stellantis got involved, too. Ford hasn’t done that and can maintain its brand – albeit no longer building actual non-SUV or pickup style cars.

    If Stellantis can give Lancia some sort of premium credibility (I’ve long thought it should be marketed the way Italian luxury fashion brands are: surely Asia will lap it up), it might survive, but Chrysler and Dodge seem to have reached the ends of their shelf lives. Sadly.

    It should be doable to build an electric one, though, which would give it a future (whatever the brand name it’ll be wearing). an MPV seems much more the natural shape of an EV than an SUV: batteries and drive train gubbins under the floor; flexible passenger space – as much of it as possible – above it.

  3. The Ford S-Max was my first thought too as a car of the european
    market comparable with the Pacifica.
    Especially the first series was a fine car and a great success for Ford. Two friends of mine bought an S-Max, meanwhile they are driving a B-Class and an Edge, both do not offer the comfort and the space of the S-Max.

    I am surprised about the fine interior and the love for details of the Pacifica. Normally american cars have rear leather that feels and looks like leatherette plastics. But this is much better.

    Chrysler’s future looks bright, so the promises of Tavares and Chrysler itself, the Airflow will start the new era of a brand with a range of electric cars.

    1. Hm. This isn’t what springs to mind when I think “Chrysler Airflow”:

      Then again, I suppose the US doesn’t get exposed to the Corsa, so the resemblance won’t be noticed. It’s a neat enough design anyway, though like I said: “Airflow” conjures up expectations of a more dramatic design to me.

      (image: Car and Driver)

    2. The S-Max is rather good, in both iterations. If people could see past the associations with MPVs they´d see the modern version of a saloon. The Titanium editions were very ritzy. Renault had some Initiale editions of the Espace (the last one) which also showed how good an MPV could be. It was a pit the seating was so resolutely uncomfy to look at and to sit on.

  4. Having no personal direct connection to the motor industry, only interpreting what’s out there, Stellantis, to me do appear able to surprise. Each and every spine of the umbrella has a route and presumably cash to follow said boulevard. Im also pretty sure Monsieur Tavares demands results and sets strict time limits. And Chrysler is merely another example that baffles; barely any product, minimal market share yet allowed to tick over and might just surprise the future American market. Or not. Who knows?

    I just like the idea of a built in vacuum cleaner in my car

  5. So if I understand correctly, after the end of the 300, Chrysler will only consist of Pacifica.
    And then they seriously want to serve the existing clientele with this new “Airflow”?

    So whatever it is that they consume at Stellantis before the meetings, I’d like to have that too.
    But perhaps it would be better to hand out a few history books before these meetings. There was a leading car industry on an island between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in earlier years, and they got themselves into trouble with the idea “you can get this car from our group with different logos on the bonnet”.

    And please tell me that the reflection underneath the vehicle is a copied Photoshop job and that the thing doesn’t shine its name on the asphalt in real life.

  6. America being America, they could even push McLaren to have a cupholder or two, in the cockpit and the brand will emerge as top seller just for matching utility to ultra performance……

    Honda has written many topics that were authored by Pentastar & Co…

  7. I guess change is the nature of life. It can be sad. Brands come and brands go. As much as we might like a particular brand, there is no reason why a brand should last forever. Conversely, is there any reason why a well-managed brand shouldn’t? Is America such an unusual case?
    Not really, I think. Imported cars have come from next to nothing in the fifties
    to become such a large part of their market – but that’s much the same situation as the UK, isn’t it? Hmm. Radically different cultures, similar problem.
    I wonder how this will play out. Does Stellantis (which sounds like the name of a particularly nasty high-priced medicine) really need Chrysler? Rephrase: leaving aside Jeep and Ram, do they need any Chrysler-branded products?
    By the way, I kind of like the Pacifica. It’s not a vehicle I’ve ever had need of; smaller ones have always been quite sufficient for my family. But a great story behind the design. Chryslers are starting to look good again. If they’re going out, it’s on a high.

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