The all-new and innovative 2017 Chrysler Pacifica has been getting a lot of positive attention. Replacing the now-retired Town & Country, the Pacifica comes with plenty of high-tech features, an impressive design and good (EPA-estimated) fuel economy. It also weighs 250 pounds less than the iconic Town & Country.
How is it possible for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to offer a minivan that comes with so much more than its predecessor, but still weighs significantly less? Apparently, it all came down to choosing the right materials.
The Design Challenges of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
In designing the Pacifica, FCA engineers had some very definite goals in mind. They wanted to create an innovative minivan with an impressive amount of features. The Pacifica also needed to offer more room than its competitors, achieve good fuel economy and still be incredibly safe for drivers and passengers.
Meeting these requirements presented some unique challenges. Shaving weight off the Pacifica would make it more fuel-efficient, but designers didn't want to make the vehicle smaller. And if lighter materials were used, these materials would have to be strong enough to allow the Pacifica to perform well in crash tests.
Ultimately, the designers of the Chrysler Pacifica opted to not cut parts, but to replace certain parts with materials that would work better. Vehicle Line Executive for the Pacifica and FCA's large cars, Mike Downey, explains:
"The challenge is putting the right material in the right place. There was no single material that is right for every application."
Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City, Michigan, Downey went on to explain how material selection is an essential part of vehicle development, but that it is typically one of the last decisions to be made.
Getting the Structure Just Right
Where Ford chose to use aluminum in the frame in order to create a lighter F-150, the frame of the Pacifica is all steel. However, different grades of steel are used throughout the vehicle, depending on how each part is expected to function.
There are 12 different grades of steel used to produce the Pacifica, with the hardest, most rigid steel surrounding the two front doors to protect the driver and the front seat passenger. On the other hand, the Pacifica’s roof is made out of mild steel in order to reduce weight. This makes sense because the roof is less likely to receive a heavy impact in the event of an accident.
The optional tri-pane sunroof and legendary Stow 'n Go rear seats were also challenging for engineers to pull off. Regarding the sunroof, Downey has stated that it:
"Looks great if you're a customer, but if you're an engineer, it blows a big hole in your roof. That makes it harder to maintain structural integrity."
In the end, through the utilization of technologically advanced materials, these features and others were triumphantly achieved. And the result of all of this difficult design work is a minivan that may set new standards for the segment. Highly rated by critics and sought after by consumers, the Chrysler Pacifica may be able to do what some have believed to be impossible. This vehicle might actually make the minivan cool.
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