Electric minivan Toyota

2017 Toyota Prius Prime, Chrysler electric minivan, Porsche

Until the post-November 8 leap forward, FCA's (NYSE:FCAU) stock price had been treading water for most of the last year or two, and recently managed to finally reach where it had traded back in May 2016 at a bit over $8 per share. That's a bit disappointing at least because FCA's U.S. vehicle unit sales are up 11% for the first 11 months of 2016.

However, under this 11% increase resides many divergent performers. Some cars such as the Dodge Dart (minus 49%) and Chrysler 200 (minus 65%) are so catastrophic that they were discontinued in late 2016 to make way for expanded pickup truck and Jeep production in 2017, 2018 and beyond. The Fiat 500 also has been catastrophic at a 37% decline.

Among the success stories, however, are the minivans - the Dodge Caravan and the all-new Chrysler Pacifica. Remember, it was Chrysler-Dodge who invented the modern minivan in 1984. As implausible as it may seem, the Dodge Caravan continues with yet another banner year, up 35% for the first 11 months of 2016 in terms of U.S. unit sales.

It was only in the second quarter of 2016 that the all-new Chrysler Pacifica was introduced, replacing the Town & Country model that was still selling from inventory for most of 2016. In this run-off year, the Town & Country still managed to rack up 58, 805 U.S. sales through November.

Yet, on top of all of these legacy minivan sales - and with almost all of it happening in less than six months - the all-new Chrysler Pacifica has now racked up another 52, 083 sales on top of the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country. What does this statistics soup mean for FCA's overall minivan sales in the U.S. market? See this table:

Chrysler Pacifica

52083

n/a

Chrysler Town & Country

86, 908

58, 805

-32%

Dodge Caravan

89, 833

120, 991

35%

TOTAL

176, 741

231, 879

31%

As you can see in the table above, total U.S. FCA minivan unit sales are up 31%, far exceeding FCA's overall U.S. unit sales at 11%. It ought to be clear to everyone that minivans are a huge part of what's driving the FCA stock price, or at least keeping it from falling.

Okay, perhaps 31% growth in U.S. minivan unit sales isn't all that impressive if the competition grew even faster. So let's take a look at that sales by the market's four minivan competitors, shall we?

125, 090

116, 622

-7%

115, 936

110, 435

-5%

34, 439

42, 236

23%

9, 315

10, 324

11%

284, 780

279, 617

-2%

As you can see in the table above, the competition has actually been down 2% year-to-date in terms of U.S. unit sales. So with FCA being up 31%, that's quite a difference - and massive market share shift in FCA's favor.

With FCA's superior performance in minivans being a key driver of its stock price, what can it do to dig where the ground is soft?

Late in the fourth quarter of 2016, FCA started production of the plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivan. It is the only proper minivan with a plug of any kind, available for sale in the U.S. market today. The first delivery is expected to occur in the second half of December 2016 or the first half of January 2017.

To realize the uniqueness of the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid offering, you have to look at how few other vehicles come even close to comparing with it. So let's compare!

There are only three cars in the U.S. market with three rows of seats that are plug-in electric vehicles of any kind: Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model X (all-electric), Volvo (OTCPK:GELYF) XC90 T8 (plug-in hybrid) and the Chrysler Pacifica (plug-in) hybrid. So already at the first cut, this class of vehicle is an ultra-tiny club.

However, beneath that basic definition of a car that (1) plugs in and (2) fits at least seven adults in three rows, these three cars are very different from each other. Let's go through these points in turn:

1. Starting price

  • Chrysler Pacifica hybrid: $43, 090 including delivery
  • Volvo XC90 T8: $68, 795 including delivery
  • Tesla Model X: $90, 000 including delivery

Two of these cars qualify for the full U.S. Federal tax credit of $7, 500 - the Chrysler and the Tesla. Because of Volvo's battery is only 9.2 kWh, it only gets its pro-rata share of what maxes out at 16 kWh.

2. Interior space

The Chrysler has a vastly larger interior space than the Volvo and Tesla. You can fit way larger people - including three tall adults in the third row - as well as dramatically much more luggage behind that third row in the Chrysler. The Pacifica is a really large box and is unmatched by the other two three-row vehicles that plug in.

3. All-wheel drive

The Tesla and Volvo are all-wheel drive cars. The Chrysler is offered strictly as a front-wheel drive car. This will clearly limit the sales of the Pacifica in comparison. Perhaps in the future, FCA will choose to add an electric motor to the other wheels, sort of what Toyota, Lexus, Volvo and BMW (OTCPK:BMWYY) have done to a few of their hybrids and plug-in hybrids, but there is no information as to if or when that will ever happen.

4. Electric range

The Tesla being an all-electric car, it obviously relies on a large battery for everything. Depending on the battery size purchased, the range will be anywhere from 237 miles for the $90, 000 base version to 289 miles for the P100D which starts at $140, 000.

The Volvo XC90 T8 has a 9.2 kWh battery and its electric-only range is 14 miles. Yes, it's all-wheel drive and there is no range anxiety because the gasoline engine will take you as far and as conveniently as any other gasoline car, but still 14 miles is a fairly modest number, even for a plug-in hybrid.

The Chrysler Pacifica hybrid has a 16.0 kWh battery and its electric-only range is 33 miles, or over twice the Volvo's 14 miles. Now you're talking! When the 2011 model year Chevrolet Volt was launched in late 2010, it also had a 16.0 kWh battery and its electric-only range was rated at 35 miles. Considering the far greater weight and lower aerodynamic efficiency of the Chrysler Pacifica, that's quite an achievement by the Chrysler engineers - as well as LG Chem (OTC:LGCEY) which makes the battery.

5. So how do they drive?

The Tesla is clearly the car for the ultimate in 0-60 MPH acceleration. Even the X75D base version does 0-60 MPH in 6.0 seconds. The Volvo does it in "only" 5.6 secondashing the throttle always "feels" better in a pure electric car such as the Tesla. Also, if you pay $140, 000, you can get a version of the Model X that cuts that number all the way down to 2.9 seconds, which is way ahead of any car in its class, if you can compare it to one which costs less than half.

The Volvo and Chrysler are somewhat similar to drive in this regard. Both cars also come in "gasoline-only" variants where the transmissions - at lower loads and lower speeds - do inject a level of crudeness to the experience. Not bad for a gasoline car necessarily, but a clear difference from a plug-in electric car.

6. Other technology

The Chrysler's technology is mostly directed to passenger comfort and space, including cargo flexibility. It's all about movie screens and how to fit up seven tall adults plus a generous amount of luggage on top of that. But the Chrysler does not - yet - have Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Auto or Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CarPlay. It is expected to arrive for the 2018 model year next September.

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