By on July 20, 2017

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (left) and Chrysler Pacifica (right) - Image: FCA

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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26 Comments on “Fiat Chrysler Thinks Americans Outside of California Don’t Know What the Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid Is...”


  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    “All of the rest of America is plebs and ignorant and fat.”
    -Californians’ inner thoughts

  • avatar
    gpolak

    I’d never consider the hybrid version since it loses the Stow n’ Go seats, the Pacifica’s best feature.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      It retains the 3rd row Stow-N-Go, but loses the 2nd row. In my own experience, I stow the 3rd row vastly more often than the 2nd row. For those rare occasions, removing the 2nd row seats wouldn’t be a big obstacle.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      Frankly, those seats–as thin as they are–are very uncomfortable.

      If the hybrid comes with BETTER middle seats, since they don’t have to stow, I’d be all up for that.

  • avatar
    kobo1d

    Tales from the Bay Area: We wanted to test drive a Pacifica plug-in hybrid last month, but couldn’t find a dealership that had one in stock within 100 miles. Lots of them listed on dealer websites, but show up and try to actually find them on the lot? “They are on the truck, should be here any day! Would you like to make a deposit to reserve one?” Same story everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      jeoff

      I think they are still sorting out issues with the car. I would guess there won’t be any new 2017s out, except for maybe existing orders. Probably the next hybrid Pacificas you will see at your dealer will be the 2018s.

  • avatar
    carlisle

    I couldn’t care less about FCA, but I am very concerned that our good man Steph is getting less print space/airtime.Let’s hope this is temporary.

  • avatar
    YeOldeMobile

    From a marketing perspective, “Plug-In Hybrid” can be a negative term in many American markets. Telling people you need to plug it in to charge the battery brings up visions of tiny electric cars lacking in range or which spend all night charging up in your garage. FCA is doing the right thing by downplaying that model.

  • avatar
    n_tesla

    They are onto something. I’m a Volt owner in MA and if anybody asks about it the first question is “Do you like it?” the second “How far does it go on a charge?”. When I say 40-50 miles I get an astonished “Well, that’s not enough!”. By the time I tell them it works as a hybrid after the battery is drained their brain has turned off and they are thinking about something else.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      I’d be willing to bet that just as many people in Cali would respond the same way.

    • 0 avatar
      islander800

      I imagine you trying to also explain that the Volt, unlike almost every other EV on the market, uses the gasoline engine solely as a power source to run generators to charge up the batteries, not to drive the wheels directly – the Volt is always being powered directly by electric motors. This is a more efficient utilization of energy to drive the vehicle and, coincidently, is essentially the same approach used by GM Diesel train engines since the 1950s – those diesel engines are powering generators that drive electric motors propelling the train down the tracks.

      Have your listeners gone comatose yet?

      • 0 avatar
        Garrett

        Someone needs to do diesel-electric locomotive style propulsion on a one-ton dually.

        Can you imagine the bragging rights of being able to say, “Who cares about yer Hemi? This thang got a train motor in it.”

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        In general, using a gas motor to turn a generator to charge a battery to turn an electric motor to turn the wheels is not as efficient as using the gas engine to turn the wheels. There are conversion losses.

        Isn’t this why the Volt gets less than anazing mileage after the plug-in charge is used up?

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        “Have your listeners gone comatose yet?”

        “Actually, the Volt can connect the engine directly to the wheels at a narrow range of highway speeds and throttle positions, which results in maximum efficiency in that scenario.”

        “What?”

        TL;DR

        “It’s complicated.”

      • 0 avatar
        OutBinkie883

        I eventually said “It uses gas, and you never actually have to plug it in. It gets about 40 miles to a gallon, and the battery is about a gallon worth of miles. If you plug it in, it’s like your first gallon of every day costs you about 40¢.”

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Most people don’t notice that my Escape is a Hybrid. Which means for one thing that they don’t read car logos. And means they are completely oblivious to the markedly different behavior.

      When they learn it is a hybrid, half of them think I plug it in to charge it. The level of ignorance (and belief in myths such as rapid battery failure) suggests a deep need for education about such things.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’m surprised they aren’t pushing the plug in availability in the greater Seattle market, we do have a very high rate of adoption of all sorts of plug in vehicles. You are more likely to see a C-Max energi than the regular Hybrid version, Volts are everywhere too.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I see plenty of new Pacifica’s in the NYC area but have yet to see a hybrid on the road. Yet there are ads for them on TV every day.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I don’t mind losing the stow n go as long as I can remove the seats I only do so a couple times a year. The two problems I have with the PHEV Pacifica is the content it loses from the limited trim and the fact you can get a gas version for $10k off sticker (if you meet all the criteria).

    Once the PHEV is $4k off sticker and the Federal credit hasn’t run out then I’ll over look the lack of memory seats and so forth.

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