FCA plans to produce Chrysler Portal concept after 2018

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV plans to build what it calls the “fifth generation” of family haulers.

The automaker expects to produce the Chrysler Portal concept or something like it after 2018, CEO Sergio Marchionne told the automotive press this week at the Detroit auto show. He declined to provide exact timing.

The all-electric, self-driving-capable Portal is being showcased by Fiat Chrysler at the North American International Auto Show. It made its global debut last week at the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas.

“We haven’t been shy to say that we see the Portal as what we view as the future of family transportation,” Tim Kuniskis, Fiat Chrysler’s passenger car chief for North America, told The Detroit News earlier this week at the show. “People ask me, is it a minivan? Is it a crossover? Is it a UV (utility vehicle)? We just say it’s the fifth generation of cars.”

The generational reference is to the industry’s progression of family haulers: station wagons to minivans to SUVs to crossovers.

Kuniskis declined to directly comment on plans to produce the car, saying the company is “gauging interest of future product development.”

The front-wheel-drive Portal has tech-savvy design with doors that glide apart from the center of the vehicle for a 5-foot-wide entry.

Navigational sensors and radars make it capable of Level Three semi-autonomous operation, which means the driver has the option to turn control over to the vehicle under certain highway situations. The system has the ability to be upgraded to higher levels, officials say.

The Portal has a customizable interior with track-mounted seats that fold and can be pushed together to free up cargo space. Seats can be removed. The “steering wheel,” which resembles the yoke of a plane, can glide into the dash when the car is in automated mode.

The Portal is based on the Chrysler Pacifica platform. Marchionne said the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant, which produces the Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans, would be a “natural place” to build the Portal.

Kuniskis declined to comment on whether a production Portal would have an all-electric powertrain or whether it would be a plug-in hybrid.

Marchionne separately did say he sees the industry releasing long-range (300-plus miles) “affordable” all-electric vehicles by 2021 or 2022, which would be within the time frame of when the company could develop and launch the Portal or something like it.

“Reasonably speaking, I think in the next four or five years, we’ll (the industry) be able to get to full electrics, no hybrids, at a reasonable (sub-$30,000). ... It’s going to be the cheapest battery cost available for any type of application.”

The Chevrolet Bolt is the only electric car under $40,000 (before federal or state tax incentives) that’s capable of traveling more than 200 miles on a single charge. Tesla Motors Inc. and others have announced plans to launch similar-performing cars.

The front-wheel-drive Portal, according to Fiat Chrysler, is estimated to have more than 250 miles of range on a full charge. In less than 20 minutes it can get 150 miles of juice when using a DC fast-charge system.

The charge port is concealed behind an access door in the Portal’s front fascia. During charging, the Chrysler winged badge on the front fascia pulses with light to indicate the battery pack’s charge level.

The company said the car has a 100-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

Ashley Edgar, a lead Fiat Chrysler engineer for the Portal, called the powertrain “a stepping stone” that could be used for a potential vehicle. “We’re looking at things for the future,” she said.

“For the people interested in this car, smart is the new sexy,” Edgar said. “The Portal concept delivers everything we know millennials want — modular components, flexible space, upgradable space and affordability.”