Start of production for the plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivan begins in late 2016, marking a milestone as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)’s first mass-produced PHEV and the industry's first PHEV minivan.
Prior to the debut of the battery-electric 2013 Fiat 500e, the automaker’s short list of electrified vehicles is tied to the now-defunct DaimlerChrysler/BMW/General Motors Hybrid Development Center undertakings as well as projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The programs included plug-in hybrid minivans using a front-wheel-drive two-mode hybrid transmission from General Motors and the development of a small batch of Ram 1500 plug-in pickup trucks.
“Our prior PHEV program work really brought our internal competency way up. And it’s worth noting that many of the underpinnings and technologies on the Pacifica PHEV came from our Hybrid Development Center experiences,” said Steven Clark, FCA’s Senior Manager of Energy Storage and High Voltage Systems for the Electrified Powertrain Engineering team.
Automotive Engineering interviewed Clark following his presentation at a Batteries for PHEVs and EVs panel session at the 2016 Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in Detroit.
As the minivan segment’s first PHEV, the plug-in Pacifica is expected to achieve an 80 MPGe in city driving. Its estimated all-electric driving range is 30 miles (48.2 km).
According to Kevin Konecky, an associate with Total Battery Consulting, the plug-in Pacifica’s all-electric range puts the PHEV “slightly above the industry average e-range of 27.3 mi (43.9 km).
Pacifica’s battery cells, modules, and packs are being assembled by LGCMI, LG Chem’s Holland, MI manufacturing facility. The 16-kW·h lithium-ion batteries feature a Ni-rich NMC cathode and graphite anode chemistry.
The six 16-cell modules are packaged under the minivan's second row of seats. Said Clark, “One of the things we wanted to make sure we retained was the cargo capacity, as cargo space is near and dear to the minivan owner.”
The second-row seats also can be removed, but because of the battery pack’s location, the PHEV does not offer the second row Stow ‘n Go feature available for non-hybrid Pacificas. Stow 'n Go allows the seats to be folded into the floor, leaving the same flat area as if the seats were removed.
Pacifica PHEV’s battery thermal-management system is comparable to the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV. “It’s similar to the Bolt in that the cells interface against an aluminum fin that conducts the heat down to a cooling plate packaged underneath the modules.”
To keep the pouch cells at a steady operating temperature, batteries can be heated with glycol/water via a heat exchanger from the engine’s cooling system, or a 7-kW heater located in the engine thermal system also can warm the batteries. For cooling, a refrigerant-based a/c chiller system is used. “These heating and cooling techniques mean the battery pack has full-function capability in all climates,” said Clark.
From a powertrain perspective, the PHEV uses an Atkinson-cycle gasoline 3.6-L V6 that, in combination with the electric drive system, achieves an estimated 260 hp (194 kW). The engine is paired with an FCA-developed, single-input electrically variable transmission (SIEVT), replacing the base Pacifica’s 9-speed ZF automatic transmission.
The PHEV’s innovative one-way clutch, positioned on the input side of the transmission and the output shaft of the motor, is crucial to the PHEV’s performance.
“This one-way clutch enables the power from both the ‘A’ motor and the ‘B’ motor to act in parallel, giving the full torque of both motors to the wheels,” said Clark. “This enhances the performance. So for instance, the minivan can accelerate up to 75 mph during all-electric driving.”
Even with its 368-lb (168-kg) mass, the plug-in Pacifica's battery pack is a leader in specific energy. Konecky told Automotive Engineering that based on an industry analysis, the Pacifica ranks at the high-end of PHEVs with 193 W·h/kg for the cell and 100 W·h/kg for the total pack. “Those are impressive stats,” Konecky said.
Compared to FCA's prior-generation minivan, the 2017 Pacifica shed approximately 250 lb (113 kg). “The battery pack added weight to the vehicle and there’s nothing we pulled out other than an alternator and a starter-motor. So the lightweight optimization done on the base model Pacifica really helped us when we did the hybridization ,” said Clark.
The plug-in Pacifica is compatible with SAE Level 1 and 2 charging. Level 2 charging takes approximately two hours.
Pricing for the plug-in hybrid Pacifica will be announced closer to the vehicle’s launch date. Both the base Pacifica and the plug-in version will be assembled at FCA’s Windsor, Ontario, manufacturing plant.