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Chrysler Introduces the Pacifica - 2003-06-19

These are rather glum days at Chrysler Group. Daimler Chrysler's American branch is expected to lose over $1 billion in the second quarter. Its market share is shrinking and job cuts are ahead. In the face of this grim news, the company is introducing new products.

It's called the Pacifica. Chrysler describes it as a "sports tourer," but most folks in the industry would call it a crossover SUV (sport utility vehicle), a blend of station wagon, SUV and minivan.

The Pacifica is Chrysler's first entry into the near-luxury price class and, as such, is carrying a lot of company hopes. The director of family vehicles and product planning, Ann Fandozzi, explains the strategy.

"The Chrysler brand really wants to position itself a little bit more upscale," she said. "In no way, shape or form, are we thinking about 'luxury' [but] a little bit more premium and set apart from the mainstream."

But, is Chrysler in danger of sinking before the new vehicles have a chance to succeed? Dan Gorrell, vice president and auto industry analyst for the San Diego, California-based Strategic Vision, Inc., doesn't think it's that desperate.

"They are getting into a growth segment, the crossovers, with their new Pacifica," said Dan Gorrell. "And, of course, they have done well with PT Cruiser and it continues to have an audience out there."

Some industry observers pointing to lagging early sales - say the Pacifica is priced too high, with the front-wheel drive version starting at over $31,000 and all-wheel drive at nearly $33,000. Strategic Vision's Dan Gorrell:

"Chrysler's reputation in some quarters isn't as strong as some other brands," said Strategic Vision's Dan Gorrell."They're also facing the fact that the air becomes a lot more rarefied as you get into the higher prices. There just aren't as many people [with money to buy their products]."

But Ann Fandozzi says "Hold on a minute! We have a plan in place."

"Our launch plan has always been a three-phase approach: all-wheel drive, everything [available options] on toshowcase the equipment, front-wheel drive, well-equipped, then the under-$30,000 model," she said. "That has always been our launch plan and continues to be."

Chrysler's Ms. Fandozzi says the Pacifica features thoughtful designs, such as the satellite navigation system display within the speedometer.

"We think, one, it is an incredible execution and, two, it is very, very safe because you actually don't have to take your eyes off the road to see the navigation system, unlike the 'center stack' [normally occupied by the radio] solution," said Ann Fandozzi.

Despite clever features and the Pacifica's beefy design, Dan Gorrell sees some rough times ahead for Chrysler.

"They're just going to have to get down in the trenches and fight," he said. "It's going to be a tough couple of years for them. Because they have some product coming, but the big products, for instance, the next-generation minivan is some years off."

A recent headline in Automotive News reads: "Chrysler Needs A Hit". The folks in the Auburn Hills, Michigan headquarters are fervently hoping the Pacifica is the first in a string of hits.

Photos courtesy DaimlerChrysler