By on January 3, 2017

fca-portal-concept

It turns out that the all-electric car Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was rumored to unveil at the Consumer Electronics Show isn’t going to be a EV Pacifica, but an new concept EV called the Chrysler Portal.

However, FCA’s new concept electric doesn’t show that the company is abandoning its internal combustion predisposition. If anything, it is weighing its options.

After all, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has expressed an uneasiness about EVs from the word go. He’s mentioned Fiat’s 500e exists solely to comply with California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate and is fearful that EV production places too much power into the hands of parts suppliers, potentially crippling FCA’s ability to produce its own powertrain components.

That doesn’t mean the Chrysler Portal isn’t well-thought-out though. Concept vehicles are aspirational and signal where your brand is going, not where it has been. Considering that FCA has sort of been on the tail end of technology, talking about the future is much more positive than discussing the company’s present inability to meet toughening fuel economy standards. However, there are some marginally realistic engineering goals behind the Portal. It may not be the minivan of today but could be the minivan of tomorrow — assuming Marchionne follows through on his retirement plans.

“It’s an attempt to change the subject from the fundamental problem of not being in a position to meet the standards,” Dan Luria, an analyst at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Institute, told Bloomberg after the initial rumors of FCA’s plans to show an electric vehicle at CES. “This is not a seriously competitive vehicle.”

Although, if Chrysler had the wherewithal to produce the Portal now, it could be. FCA says that the futuristic six-seater would possess a competitive 250 mile all-electric range as it “explores the possibility of what a family transportation vehicle could look like,” with connectivity to personal devices and the cloud.

fca-portal-concept

Floor-mounted battery packs are intended to keep the cabin open and airy while a fast charger is designed to restore 150 miles worth of range in under 20 minutes. Chrysler said the hypothetical Portal would be marketed toward cost-concerned younger buyers without estimating the price range. However, implementing self-driving and EV technology isn’t exactly cheap in today’s market, and no car has demonstrated the ability to effectively drive itself. Of course, FCA didn’t explain how it would implement the autonomous technology anyway.

Unlikely as it may be, this is all technically feasible in the not-so-distant FCA future. Fiat Chrysler could, theoretically, invest heavily into battery technology and already has an in with Google’s Waymo on the self-driving frontier. It’s speculative to say the Portal will ever reach development in any form, but the company needs to place some serious faith into new tech before it gets swallowed up by economy regulations.

For 2016, U.S. regulators predict FCA’s trucks will only average 25.7 miles per gallon. The average will need to rise to 31.8 mpg in 2020 in order to keep pace with the elevated standard, according to Gopal Duleep, president of H-D Systems, a Washington-based research company. However, Fiat Chrysler’s cars will need to reach 41.8 mpg, up from the 31.2 mpg average of today. “FCA may be able to get pretty close to meeting the standard at least through 2021,’’ Duleep said. “After that, the truck standard really starts to shoot up, and it gets rough for them.’’

The Chrysler Portal will be unveiled later this afternoon at the 2017 CES kickoff.

fca-portal-concept-rear

[Images: FCA]

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25 Comments on “FCA Attempts to Alter Its Image as a Technological Laggard With a Minivan It Won’t Make...”


  • avatar
    OldManPants

    A “minivan” that couldn’t carry a set of its own tires if there were rear passengers.

    I see the Model 3 has kicked of the Mole Look.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      As the happy owner of a Mazda5, I can vouch for the ability of automakers to squeeze a third row into surprisingly small packages.

      If FCA built this and did in fact package in a third row, I’d be on it like butter stains on Paula Deen’s apron.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Remember the “ENVI” vaporware Cerberus showed off during the recession?

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    They aren’t gonna be around long enough to build it anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Speed3

      Why do you say that? They are profitable and their sales are growing.

      The Chrysler division may not be around, but FCA will soldier on in some form. Chrysler is a 2 product brand and I have not seen any indication that they are getting new product soon.

      Anyway, Sergio is right about about EVs and parts suppliers – there is potential for huge disruption and lower barriers to entry for new competitors.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    “Considering that FCA has sort of been on the tail end of technology, talking about the future is much more positive than discussing the company’s present inability to meet toughening fuel economy standards.”

    Are there ANY standards they aren’t struggling to meet? Seriously, besides Jeep and Ram, do they have any products that make money in the US? I know that the small/mid-sizcar market in the US ain’t exactly thriving, but when a company of that size has simply abandoned it entirely due to not having a product that doesn’t suck, I don’t think there’s a great deal of hope there.

    EDIT: Scratch that; I am guessing that the Caravan made money, but I think the jury’s still out on the Pacifica. I fear the lack of a lower trim may drive production volumes too low.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      The Charger/300/Challenger makes money. They couldn’t hardly give the Dart and 200 away, so why continue to build them? To sell them at a loss? They sure weren’t paying any bills with them. Quite the opposite.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    Meh!

    I was hoping for a fully formed Chrysler Pacifica EV that would be ready for sale in a year or two. The time when electric concepts were important to me personally has come and gone. Now, production-intent vehicles are important.

    We’ll be replacing my wife’s Civic with a Tesla Model 3 when it becomes available — but I need a minivan, for all of the things a midsize sedan can’t do.

    I do most of the kid-hauling for the family these days. Also, I’m one of those liberal environmentalists Trump and his followers complained about so much, and so I’m in the market for an electric minivan.

    A Pacifica Plugin Hybrid is a possibility, but I’m a little reluctant to buy a complex multi-leg drivetrain from FCA, since they can’t even make the JGC reliable. I’d be much more confident buying a full EV from FCA, because the systems integration is more straightforward. A decent warranty would probably put me over the top. But I’m not holding my breath.

    Maybe Tesla will release a $45k electric minivan one of these days! Or maybe Nissan will release the Nissan E-NV200 in the US.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Sergio “…is fearful that EV production places too much power into the hands of parts suppliers, potentially crippling FCA’s ability to produce its own powertrain components.”

    This seems like a straw man claim.

    FCA doesn’t make its own transmissions, for example, and I remember an incident recently where they were at risk in building minivans because they might not get seats or headlights:
    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2016/11/fca-minivan-plant-avoids-one-supplier-related-shutdown-hit-another/

    If ZF decides to shut off 8-speed and 9-speed transmissions to you, Sergio, are you going to tool them yourself?

    BMW winds its own electric motors; it’s not rocket science. Batteries are probably the highest-risk, long-lead item, and the entire car is built around them. Time to make an OEM battery friend, Sergio!

    • 0 avatar
      mason

      ZF invested almost $900 million in their two Indiana facilities so it’s quite doubtful they would just shut Chrysler out like that. Aside from that, Chrysler owns the intellectual property on the ZF’s so if there was a breakdown between Chrysler and ZF ZF could not continue building transmissions for another manufacturer without some extensive R & D

      Last I knew, Chrysler was still building their truck transmissions in house. 66RFe, 68RFE.

    • 0 avatar
      markogts

      I think the problem are the engines. It’s the last place where traditional automakers have know-how and patents, all else has been outsourced by the bean counters to chinese suppliers. So, take away the engine, and even a post office can build its own car

      http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN1261RB

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Amazing. Who would have thought it would be possible to show a concept car with batteries in the floor that in theory can travel 150 miles on a single charge of electricity?

    Oh, wait, Tesla already sells 20,000+ each quarter. Great job, FCA. Keep inspiring people!

  • avatar
    RHD

    Too bad it’s not going in to production. Cactuar would have earned residuals off the wheel design.

  • avatar
    Thinkin...

    Technological Laggard?

    Have you seen the new Pacifica Hybrid? 20+ mile pure EV range in a battery/hybrid minivan (with industry-leading gas mpg thereafter) and with more options that you can shake a stick at. There isn’t a similar competing vehicle on the market. FCA might be late to the EV party with it, but they’re first in the minivan segment. Sure, it’s a boring market, but a large and important one. Thus “technological laggard” seems a bit harsh.

  • avatar
    Tandoor

    Always with the ridiculous huge wheels. I know it’s a concept but what is it with the giant rims nowadays? Does the auto buying public like spending 4 figures for rubber? Sell me a van with 215/70 R15s.

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