Fiat Chrysler has freshened the Chrysler Pacifica minivan with SUV-inspired styling, a new all-wheel-drive system and nearly 100 standard safety features.
The new features and updated styling were done to better compete against crossovers and SUVs, segments customers have been flocking to from passenger cars for their space, capability and safety – three areas Chrysler concentrated on for the 2021 Pacifica.
Pricing for the updated vehicle, which will arrive in U.S. dealerships in the fourth quarter, was not announced. The Pacifica currently starts between about $34,000 and $50,000. The updated vehicle was unveiled Thursday morning at the Chicago Auto Show.
Tim Kuniskis, head of Fiat Chrysler's passenger cars division in North America, said the company doesn't expect the updates to draw a substantial number of crossover and SUV buyers, but they should assist in maintaining the vehicle's customer base as well as the company's sales leadership in the segment.
"We're not looking at it to grow the segment, we're looking at it to maintain the leadership," he told CNBC last month during a media briefing for the vehicle. "But if you look at why nearly 3,000 people a day are switching from a passenger car to a (utility vehicle), why are they doing this? They're doing it for space, size and utility, but that's not enough. Because if that was enough, they'd buy a minivan. It's the capability that goes along with that."
The last time the company offered an all-wheel-drive minivan was 2004. The new system is an "active" all-wheel-drive system that engages when needed, making it so drivers do not have to physically turn it on.
The 97 standard safety features are 14 more than the current models and include blind spot monitoring, active emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Other changes include a new infotainment system with a 10.1-inch touchscreen and an updated interior.
The company also is adding a new upscale "Pinnacle" trim that features "quilted Caramel Nappa leather seats" in all three rows, matching lumbar pillows in the second-row captain's chairs and a larger "integrated" storage console.
The 2021 Pacifica will continue to be powered by a V-6 engine with 287 horsepower and 262 pound feet of torque. A hybrid version with an all-electric range of more than 30 miles before the engine takes over also is available.
Chrysler is acknowledged for inventing the minivan segment as we know it today in 1983. After decades of growth and minivans accounting for about 8% of the U.S. light-duty vehicle market, sales in the mid-1990s to 2000, sales have nose-dived to less than 400,000 units in recent years.
Much of the segment's decline is attributed to the rise of crossovers and SUVs as well as a stigma of the vehicles being uncool and for "soccer moms," but Kuniskis maintains it's "good business" for the company.
"The segment went from 1 million to 400,000 units, but when it was 1 million units, you had 15 people competing in it. Now it's 400,000 units and we own half of it," he said. "That's good business for us."
Competitors in the minivan segment include the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and Kia Sedona.
Fiat Chrysler sold about 220,000 minivans in 2019, down 18.5% compared with 2018, but the company maintains its segment leadership with combined sales of the Pacifica as well as the Dodge Grand Caravan.