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Why the Pacifica Sells Slowly - Lessons to be Learned

From what we can tell by reading the newspaper, both Chrysler and automotive analysts have come to the same conclusion: that the Pacifica is not selling well because it is priced too high for a Chrysler. We differ with this conclusion, and note as an aside that the same analysts thought mergers were a great idea until recently, when they suddenly decided that the non-merger companies were doing quite well (Honda, Toyota, PSA, and BMW), while the merger maniacs (GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler) were having some problems. (The problem with analysts is that many were taught with the case study method, which makes it possible to "prove:" just about anything.)

Back to the point at hand - why we think the problem with the Pacifica is not price. Quite simply, as Chrysler folk have been saying for years, Chevrolet spans a range from $10,000 to $50,000, as does Ford, if you include their trucks. And that's the problem with Pacifica marketing.

It positions the Pacifica as a minivan.

The Pacifica should be shown as an SUV, positioned as an SUV, the all wheel drive option emphasized. Yes, we know it is not a truck, nor should it ever be taken off-road, but then, neither should a Lincoln Navigator, not if you want to keep it. On gravel or dirt, yes; in Jeep terrain, no. And the Pacifica can deal with gravel and dirt quite well. But the reason to show it as a truck is simple.

The standards for SUVs are lower than minivans.

Drive a Lincoln Navigator one day, then drive a Chrysler Pacifica. The difference is incredible, and it's all in the Pacifica's favor. The interior is nicer to look at, and far more functional. There seems to be more passenger room, the controls are better, the amenities are better, the ride is far better, the handling is far better, the gas mileage is better. Indeed, the Pacifica beats the Navigator and Suburban in just about every way, save actually hauling huge amounts of heavy stuff, which few buyers ever do.

The whole point of making the Pacifica was to have the convenience of a minivan, but with a hood so that SUV buyers would not turn up their noses at it. That has been achieved, along with unnecessary and expensive additions such as a load-levelling suspension and navigation system. In addition, the safety often used as an excuse by large-SUV buyers is there, in spades, with five star crash ratings all around and the only three-row airbag setup available.

The Pacifica is not a very good minivan. Compared with the Town & Country, it has worse rear visibility, costs a lot more, and is less efficient at using its full length for people and cargo. Its heavy weight takes a toll on gas mileage, so that the 3.5 liter engine yields about the same acceleration as the less powerful 3.8 in the Town & Country. But it's a great full-size SUV, if you don't need to tow or haul unreasonably heavy objects.

Now is the time for Chrysler to take advantage of the vanity of the typical large-SUV buyer (and if you think vanity is not a factor, ask why someone who does not tow or haul lumber would spend another $10,000 for an SUV when they could get a minivan with the same space, more comfort, and better mileage, handling, and ride). The Pacifica needs to be marketed against the Suburban and the Expedition, using the same types of magazine ads, TV ads, and radio ads. Make it sound tough and durable. Make it sound macho and strong and big. Emphasize the muscle and brawn and then talk about the great features.

Otherwise, it's back to the "fire sale" marketing for the next five years, while Toyota, Nissan, and Honda slowly start to dominate the large-car-based-SUV market.

Reply by Gene Poon

From the ad campaign, the impression of the Pacifica isn't that it is a minivan; somehow, without saying so, the idea is planted that it's a (horrors!) STATION WAGON. At least that is how I see it.

As the daily driver of a station wagon (a Ford product; by the mid-90s, Chrysler had long since abandoned the station wagon market, the only competent US-built wagon being the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable), I cringe every time I see the Vehix.com TV commercial where the little spoiled brat kids whine, "I don't want to be dropped off at school in a Used Station Wagon!" But I guess the parents who have that jind of whiny spoiled kids now have a bad image of the station wagon. Too bad that somehow a classification such as a "Sport Wagon" never caught on. Blame it on Subaru, who pushed the Legacy Outback as an SUV instead of what it really is. A perfectly good, (and used, once it comes off the showroom floor) Station Wagon.

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