Fiat Chrysler Thinks Americans Outside of California Don't Know What the Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid Is
It’s a fact that California contains half of the country’s electric vehicles and a solid chunk of America’s hybrids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean residents of the other 49 states can’t tell a plug-in hybrid from a turnip.
As all-electric range grows, plug-in hybrids have begun eclipsing conventional hybrids in the U.S. marketplace, enticing buyers with the prospect of leaving the gas engine shut off (potentially) for the whole commute. After hopping on the green bandwagon with its Pacifica Hybrid, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was able to boast of having the only plug-in minivan in North America.
Only, it won’t boast about the “plug-in” part anywhere except California. Nope, you won’t hear the company call it a plug-in in New York City, or Seattle, or Chicago. Not in Vermont or Georgia, either. Apparently those people just can’t handle it.
While crafting its nationwide marketing materials, Chrysler’s ad team specifically omitted any reference to plug-in capabilities out of fear that would-be buyers would think it was a fully electric vehicle. Full-on EVs still suffer from an image problem. Expensive, yes, but still not capable of nearly limitless driving. Range anxiety remains a top concern.
“What happens when the Pacifica plug-in hybrid drains its battery?” was the question asked by these hypothetical viewers. Of course, in such a situation the Pacifica plug-in simply fires up its Atkinson-cycle 3.6-liter V6 and continues driving as a conventional hybrid. But that’s clearly outside the realm of comprehension for the average Iowan. Or Rhode Islander.
Thankfully for the enlightened folks in California, a state-specific Chrysler Pacifica marketing campaign will use the “plug-in” reference after the automaker felt it would help sales, not hinder them.
“People here see it as a benefit and understand that that’s worth more,” said Tim Kuniskis, head of FCA’s passenger car brands in the U.S., in an interview with Bloomberg.
Today saw FCA’s two-stage California-centric marketing campaign kick off with the Pacifica plug-in’s “Charge Across California Tour.” Public test drives and presentations will show Golden State residents the glories of the Toyota Prius Prime of minivans, followed by digital and broadcasts ads. Workshops detailing the electrified Pacifica will target employees of high-tech companies scattered around California.
While FCA doesn’t feel the rest of the country is ready to hear the term “plug-in,” that doesn’t mean it’ll remain perpetually under wraps. Talk to your neighbor or brother-in-law or co-worker about hybrid powertrains. Talk to them about car design. Ask them about whether Eagle, Plymouth or Pontiac still exist. There’s no shortage of low (auto) information folks out there.
And, truth be told, plug-in hybrids remain extremely rare compared to internal combustion models. According to HybridCars.com, plug-in hybrids made up just 0.53 percent of June auto sales in the U.S., with the Pacifica Hybrid representing 1,367 units of the nearly 30,000 PHEVs sold in the first half of 2017. Contrast that with the 12,399 gas-only Pacificas sold in June alone.
When knowledge of the technology catches up, so will FCA’s marketing, Kuniskis said.
“Five years from now ‘plug-in’ will not be scary to anybody,” he explained. “People that buy minivans are not high-tech, performance-oriented people that are interested in how the car works. They’re interested in what the car can do for them. They don’t care how the engine works. Just tell me that it gets great fuel economy and does what I need it to do.”
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]
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