Archive for January, 2016|Monthly archive page

Fiat Chrysler says new Pacifica minivan is ‘monumental leap’

DETROIT — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plans to dramatically redefine the minivan category with its new Chrysler Pacifica and a plug-in hybrid version — two models with enough fresh styling and performance to potentially re-energize a segment that has lost more than half its sales the past 15 years.

The minivan will be formally unveiled Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The automaker is surprising the industry by dropping Town & Country — a name that has helped it retain its position as the king of minivans for the better part of 25 years — and reviving the Pacifica name. The automaker eventually plans to phase out the Dodge Grand Caravan, too.

“Sure, it is absolutely risky to change the name, but that’s how confident we are,” said Tim Kuniskis, head of Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat. “We wanted to change the name so that you think, ‘this is new, this is fresh, I need to check this out and forget the perception that I had about the previous minivan.’ ”

A new look

The Pacifica ushers in a completely new look that hides its sliding doors and doesn’t even appear to be a minivan at first glance.

“This is a fairly monumental leap. This is no evolutionary change,” said Dave Sullivan, an auto analyst for Auto Pacific who also is a minivan owner. “Inside, the materials … and buttons, switches all feel very nice and very high quality, and they really have gone all-in on rear-seat entertainment.”

Sullivan said it’s clear that the automaker poured every ounce of energy it could into developing a new design and packing the new minivan with innovations that will allow Chrysler to leapfrog the competition for several years.

The Pacifica is equipped with a redesigned 3.6-liter, V-6 Pentastar engine that produces 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The new engine is lighter and increases the gas compression, leading better fuel economy when combined with a nine-speed transmission, Kuniskis said.

The hybrid version will get up to 80 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) in city driving. It will be the only plug-in hybrid on the market when it goes on sale later this year. The minivan will go up to 30 miles on electric power when fully charged. When the battery’s energy is depleted, the Pacifica Hybrid becomes a part-time electric vehicle, like a conventional hybrid.

Analysts say the decision to develop a hybrid minivan makes a lot of sense because of the driving habits of minivan owners, and the size of the vehicle offers a lot of space to store the batteries.

“It’s an opportunity because the typical minivan owner — their daily commute is about 30 miles. They take kids to school, run errands, go back home,” said Bruce Velisek director of the Chrysler brand.

The trick will be ensuring it remains affordable. The automaker hasn’t announced pricing for either version.

A plug-in hybrid minivan

The development of a plug-in hybrid minivan was a major undertaking for the automaker, which is woefully behind the competition when it comes to hybrids and electric vehicles. While competitors including Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota aggressively developed and launched a hybrid and electric cars, Fiat Chrysler held back.

The automaker launched an electric version of the Fiat 500 in 2013 but does not sell a conventional hybrid. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a plug-in hybrid but will simply be marketed as a hybrid, Kuniskis said.

“Customers in this segment buy on functionality. They don’t buy on the technology side of the business, so they’re not really concerned about how it works as long as it works and does exactly what they need it to do,” Kuniskis said.

The Pacifica Hybrid’s battery is located under the second-row floor, keeping the rear cargo area as roomy as ever and preserving the third-row Stow ‘n Go seating and storage.

When the battery is depleted the van becomes a part-time electric vehicle, like a conventional hybrid. The battery can be fully recharged in two hours using a 240-volt plug-in system.

The exterior and interior design of Pacifica is a giant leap forward for the automaker that will put it ahead of its main rivals — the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna — said Dave Sullivan, auto analyst for AutoPacific.

The goal was to create a minivan that looks more like a crossover than a van and that has sculpted curves and sexy lines to overcome the stigma attached to minivans.

“We are not trying to say it’s not a minivan, all we are trying to say is it’s so new, so different and so much of a game changer in that segment that we wanted to change the name so that you think, ‘this is new, this is fresh, I need to check this out,’ and forget the perception about the previous minivan,” Kuniskis said.

The original Pacifica was introduced in 2003 as a three-row crossover that Chrysler produced for four years. At the time, the Pacifica was viewed as an innovative cross between a minivan, SUV and sedan.

However, it struggled with quality issues and some thought it lacked power. It was one of several models the automaker discontinued as losses mounted and the Great Recession began pushing the company toward Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

But Sullivan said starting fresh with the Pacifica name gives the automaker a chance to recast its pricing formula for its minivans.

In recent years, the Dodge Grand Caravan was the automaker’s lower-priced van, with starting prices ranging from $22,000 to $31,000, while Town & Country is priced from $30,000 to $41,000.

By renaming its minivan the Pacifica, the automaker can set a new pricing structure.

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica will be available in six models when it goes on sale this spring while the Pacifica Hybrid will come in two models when it arrives during the second half of 2016.

With the Pacifica, Fiat Chrysler also is doubling down on entertainment.

The Pacifica includes two 10-inch Uconnect screens for rear seat entertainment. Passengers can watch movies, play built-in games, connect personal devices to surf the Internet and stream content throughout the vehicle.

“We think kids are going to love it — even more than they do today,” Kuniskis said.
Key features and facts about the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan:

– A redesigned 3.6-liter, V-6 Pentastar engine that produces 287 horsepower and 262 pound feet of torque.

– Pacifica Hybrid gets up to 80 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) in city driving.

– Hybrid powertrain delivers an estimated 248 horsepower with an estimated electric range of 30 miles when the 16-kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery when fully charged.

– The battery is located under the second-row floor, keeping the rear cargo area as roomy as ever and preserving the third-row Stow ‘n Go seating and storage.

– Battery can be fully recharged in two hours using a 240-volt plug-in system.

– E-shift rotary dial shifter located on the integrated center console that electronically actuates shift selection. The e-shift system also enables more packaging and design flexibility when compared to mechanical shift systems.

– Two 10-inch high-definition Uconnect Theater entertainment system in the rear, allowing passengers to watch movies, play built-in games, connect personal devices and surf the Internet.

– Hands-free sliding doors and liftgate and redesigned Stow ‘n Go seating with Stow ‘n Go Assist and Easy Tilt access to the third row.

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A few ways to improve your odds for record $800M Powerball

The record-breaking $800 million Powerball jackpot is the stuff of dreams, but it all boils down to math. From the huge prize to the enormous odds against winning it, Saturday night’s drawing is a numbers game that gives players good reason to brush up on their algebra, maybe as they stand in line to buy a ticket. A look at some of the statistics:


For those who match all five white balls and the red Powerball, the key numbers are the $800 million jackpot, paid out over 30 years or as an immediate $428.4 million in cash. Those figures are before federal and state taxes, which will eat up roughly half of the cash-option prize.


Ticket holders have a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning. To put that in perspective, the odds of hitting the jackpot are about the same as your odds of flipping a quarter and getting heads 28 times in a row, said Jeffrey Miecznikowski, associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo.

“The probability is so small, dare say impossible,” Miecznikowski said. “It’s like trying to count electrons or drops of water in the ocean or grains of sand in the world. We just can’t imagine these types of things.”


No one has won the Powerball jackpot since early November, which is why the prize has grown so large. The bigger prize entices more people to buy tickets, and that drives up the jackpot. The increased ticket sales also make it more likely there will be a winner, simply because all those extra tickets mean more number combinations are covered.


Scott A. Norris, an assistant professor of mathematics at Southern Methodist University, said there’s no trick to playing the lottery, but your tiny odds of winning are a bit better if you let the computer pick rather than choosing yourself. That’s because when people use birthdates or other favorite figures, they generally choose numbers 31 or below. That ignores the fact that there are 69 numbered balls.


Your odds increase with additional tickets, but it’s important to keep in mind how small they are to begin with. If you have a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning with one ticket, you have 10 times the odds if you buy 10 tickets. Yet the probability is still incredibly small.

“The odds are so astronomically small that even 100 times that number is exceedingly unlikely to win,” Norris said. “It’s probably still not going to happen if you buy a hundred tickets or a thousand tickets or even a million tickets.”

If you have extra cash and are thinking of buying all possible number combinations, that is allowed, but it wouldn’t be very smart. At $2 a ticket, the strategy would cost about $584 million, and when taxes are subtracted, you’d end up losing money.

And if someone else had the winning numbers, you’d need to split the prize. You’d make back some of that money by smaller prizes paid for matching three, four or five of the balls plus the Powerball, but chances are it still wouldn’t be a good bet.


Despite the odds, someone will eventually win the prize. What then? Is it better to take the money as an annuity or in cash?

Olivia S. Mitchell, a professor of insurance and risk management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said to avoid the risk of overspending or an investment mishap, a safe option would be to take the annuity, guaranteeing a huge annual payout for three decades.

“We know the average American is quite financially illiterate,” Mitchell said.

For those who want to invest the money themselves, Mitchell suggested setting aside part of the cash option to buy their own annuity that would give them a guaranteed income in case the return on the money they do invest comes up short.

“That way, you still might not beat what the state pays,” she said. “But on the other hand, you’ve protected your basic consumption needs.

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“RT” Dodge Caravan keeps going

According to RamMan, the current-style Dodge Caravan will keep going through the full 2016 model year. oh2o and other sources had told Allpar of this months ago, but it was recently confirmed. That said, buyers looking to special order their vans will need to do so quickly — orders for March production are due by tomorrow so the 2017 Chrysler minivan can be scheduled properly.

Ordering for the 2016 Town & Country has closed. Canadian-edition production of the Town & Country will run through the end of February, with US production running through March 18.

We have had conflicting reports on when the 2017 Chrysler minivans will be produced; one source claimed April for the US and late May or early June for Canada, where the Chrysler van sales are quite low and Dodge sales are high.

oh2o added that there would be a full model year for the 2017 Dodge Caravan; he believed that the new “RU” series would start in early March, though. The hybrid will follow around four to nine months later.

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Cherokee vs Wrangler: the winner

In November, we visited the sales race between the new Jeep Cherokee and the Jeep Wrangler — a modern, lighter-duty vehicle and a heavy-duty traditionalist. The Wrangler had been falling behind, possibly because Daimler did not build the plant with any expansion in mind.

Those constraints will not ease until, ironically, the Wrangler takes over the Cherokee’s plant, pushing the more modern Jeep out of Ohio. The Wrangler sells as quickly as it can be built, despite the lack of a recent redesign or most of the Cherokee’s gizmos and creature comforts.

In November, US buyers had picked up 196,211 Jeep Cherokees, versus 187,111 Jeep Wranglers and 174,950 Jeep Grand Cherokees. Canadians had chosen Cherokees as the top Jeep every month of the year, and outside North America, the Cherokee easily outsells the Wrangler.

For 2015 as a whole, the Jeep Cherokee easily beat the Jeep Wrangler (in the US), 220,260 to 202,702; the pair were closer in 2015, when the Wrangler beat the Cherokee by around 3,200 sales. The Grand Cherokee came in at #3, with 195,958 sales.

The other Jeep race was between the new Jeep Renegade and the Jeep Compass, and we’d called it for the Compass, which had a full year of sales vs the abbreviated Renegade 2015. Not surprisingly, the Compass, with just 66,698 sales, eked out a Pyrrhic victory over the Renegade, with 60,946. 2016 will almost certainly change the order; though a new Jeep Compass is due at some point. In the meantime, the Patriot’s surprising 27% gain, to nearly 120,000 sales, made keeping it around a paying proposition.

There is another disclaimer: there are two Jeep Wrangler models, on different wheelbases, but there are also two cars using the same basic chassis on the Grand Cherokee side. Adding Dodge Durango sales to the Grand Cherokee (as Wrangler Unlimited is added to Wrangler) would easily push that pair to the top.

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UConnect 4 coming soon

The fourth-generation Uconnect system, now including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, will be shown later this year at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. The display will also show off the police-exclusive Uconnect 12.1 setup.

In 2016, FCA will launch Uconnect systems with capacitive touchscreens, better performance and touchscreen responsiveness, and higher screen resolution and brightness.

CarPlay uses Siri and Apple Maps, integrating iPhone controls into the car; Android Auto is similar but uses Google’s platform. Both are to be used in 8.4” systems sometime in 2016.

FCA’s display will show off some concepts as well, including predictive technology to provide information when needed; car to car and car to roadside communication, to reduce rear-end, lane-change, and intersection crashes; a privacy mode; a concierge mode, providing personalized suggestions; and a workload manager to prioritize what is shown to the driver in critical situations.

The concept will also allow passengers to automatically share hazardous road conditions with others, allow for a follow-me mode, and demonstrate an augmented-reality heads-up display using the windshield to display cars in blind spots, parking assists, and ice/snow in the road.

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