A sound sales strategy is to sell something no one else is selling.
How about a plug-in hybrid minivan ?
That's a species of minivan — and hybrid — only one brand offers at the moment.
What It Is
The Pacifica plug-in hybrid can accurately be described as a part-time electric minivan. It can travel as far as 33 miles on a fully charged electric battery — without burning any gas at all.
But unlike a full-time electric car, you don't have to stop for a recharge when the battery runs low.
The gas engine steps in, and you keep on going until it's convenient to plug in.
Or you just gas up.
Base price is $39,995 for the Touring trim; a top-of-the-line Limited trim has a sticker of $44,995.
Chrysler has added a sporty S appearance package to the roster of options. It's similar in theme to the S package that Chrysler first offered with the 300 sedan. It includes black Black Noise 18-inch wheels and gloss black trim throughout, with offsetting Light Diesel Gray interior accents to match.
Touring L trims get a standard heated steering wheel, and Touring Plus trims get an upgraded theater version of the UConnect touch screen with wireless streaming capability.
It's much more fuel-efficient than other full-size vans. Expect to average about 30 mpg — about 10 mpg more than non-hybrid vans.
It's capable of gettin' you to work without burning any gas — if work is less than 30-something miles away.
There's no loss of cargo capacity behind the third row.
What's Not So Good
The second row does not stow and go — as it does in the non-hybrid Pacifica — because the room under the floor is taken up by the batteries.
All-wheel drive isn't available.
You'll spend less on gas but more to plug in.
Its price is much higher than thirstier non-hybrid rivals like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.
Under the Hood
With its 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack fully charged up, the Pacifica can be driven about 33 miles in electric-only mode. And you can go as far as 566 miles before you have to stop. That's the combined range of the electric-gas hybrid powertrain.
There's also no waiting when you run out of range — gas or electric. Gas up in about five minutes, whereas it's at least 30 to 45 minutes for a partial recharge in a full-time electric vehicle. Or, plug in when you get home.
Full-time electric cars haven't got that flexibility. When the batteries wilt, you have to stop to recharge, whether it's convenient or not. And then you have to wait.
On the Road
This already-quiet van is made even quieter in electric mode by the absence of engine noise.
It's just like an electric car but without the range anxiety.
The Pacifica hybrid accelerates nearly as quickly as the non-hybrid Pacifica, even though it is several hundred pounds heavier (the batteries, mostly) and has slightly less total horsepower — 260 versus 287.
The regular Pacifica gets from zero to 60 mph in a quick 7.5 seconds; the plug-in gets there in a 7.8, a difference measurable by the stopwatch but not the seat of the pants.
If anything, the hybrid feels stronger because of the immediate thrust delivered by its high-performance battery pack and motors (there are two of them).
Otherwise, this part-time electric van drives like the standard van, which is probably a function of the superior weight distribution (versus most hybrids, plug-ins and otherwise). There is more room in a full-size van for the battery pack; the cells (96 of them) can be spread out over the length (and width) of this long (and wide) vehicle — as opposed to being bunched up under the trunk.
So even though this van is heavy, it is not top-heavy.
If anything, it feels more stable than the non-hybrid Pacifica because that weight hunkers it down.
At the Curb
Minivans aren't very "mini" anymore.
The Pacifica is 203.8 inches long overall, longer than the Sienna (200.6 inches) and the Odyssey (203.2 inches).
But its size is leavened by its comparatively short hood, which gives you an almost-cab-forward view of the world and tightens up the maneuvering — or at least makes it feel less intimidating when maneuvering.
A 360-degree Surround View camera system helps in close quarters, and you can get automated parallel- and perpendicular-parking assistance.
Aside from the high cost of saving money on gas, the main Pacifica plug-in's main negative is that you can't disappear the second-row seats into the floor, which you can in the regular Pacifica, the reason being that the battery pack and other hybrid gear is under the floor.
The Bottom Line
Minivans are fundamentally about practicality, and the part-time-electric-vehicle capability of this plug-in hybrid is exactly that. You get to drive an EV without having to wait for one. And without being tied to an electric umbilical cord.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.