This week in Detroit, the North American International Auto Show has attracted the biggest automakers in the world to the Motor City, where they’re competing for the future of the automotive market.
And this year, unusual new hybrid models are generating some of the biggest headlines so far. Plug-in hybrids are quickly going mainstream, with Chrysler, Ford, Volvo, and others rolling out new models. Already, the unofficial Best in Show award is going to a particularly unlikely hybrid, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, the first plug-in minivan.
The 2017 Pacifica boasts a 30-mile all-electric range, and can achieve up to 80 MPGe. While most traditional hybrid batteries charge from the vehicle’s gas-powered engine, these new plug-in hybrids also come with an additional charging cord, which can be plugged into electrical outlets.
“It’s a gateway drug to full electrification,” Jake Fisher of Consumer Reports told USA Today. “While many people are not ready for a full electric car and all the limitations that go with that, when you have a plug-in hybrid, you don’t have any of those issues.”
For the last 15 years, the 2001 Honda Insight ranked as the most fuel-efficient gas-powered car on the road, according to Environmental Protection Agency ratings. The Insight could achieve 61 MPG on the highway and had a combined rating of 52 MPG.
But in the nearly two decades since the Honda Insight made its debut, fuel-efficiency ratings for traditional hybrids have only increased incrementally. So as customers — and car companies — chase better fuel efficiency standards, plug-in hybrids are finally emerging as a viable alternative.
So far, car companies like Tesla, Honda, and Toyota have designed much more efficient cars than companies like Chrysler. And because of stricter emissions standards, that means Chrysler has to purchase emissions credits from its own competition.
If the new 2017 Pacifica lives up to its hype, and if mainstream consumers can make the switch to plugging in and gassing up the family minivan, then that could finally change.