By on May 6, 2012

With a lock on at least 40 percent of the minivan market, Chrysler isn’t going to be exiting the minivan market anytime soon – but they do have to decide on what direction they’ll take the next-generation minivan. The company still hasn’t decided on whether to kill off the Chrysler Town & Country or Dodge Grand Caravan – or if they should keep both.

The Town & Country has a higher average transaction price than the Grand Caravan, and many have suggested that the Chrysler van would be the sole remaining entrant in the lineup. But the Grand Caravan’s runaway success (where it ranks among the best selling vehicles) in Canada has given executives some reservations about keeping one model only.

Either way, Dodge will have a new crossover to replace the Grand Caravan and Avenger, featuring traditional doors. Any future Dodge minivan would have sliding doors, as expected in the segment. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told Automotive News that the Chrysler 700C concept minivan would provide a hint at the direction of future minivans, but that some unpopular styling elements would not make it into production.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

50 Comments on “Chrysler Minivans Here To Stay, But Direction Remains Unclear...”


  • avatar
    mr_muttonchops

    Why couldn’t Dodge just keep the Grand Caravan in Canadian dealers (similar to how Chevy only sells the Orlando there), while offering it stateside primarily as a commercial vehicle via RAM dealerships? I mean if they want to limit/cut-out one van from their plan (hey, that rhymed!) Also how exactly does a crossover replace two different types of vehicles, with two different levels of needs?

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    My suggestion is to keep the Caravan brand as the name of the minivan, but use Town & Country as the name of the premium trim level.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      That recognizes the reality under the hood, that was obvious to me the first time I couldn’t tell the Dodge and Chrysler variants apart at a distance. I like it!

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I see GC’s advertised around here for sub $18k + TTL. Can’t beat that for a 7 person vehicle…

  • avatar
    gmichaelj

    I’m sorry. I fail to understand the nature of this self-imposed problem.

    Will Fiat make more money if they sell through just one set of dealerships for a higher transaction price?

    Isn’t “Volume” the magic of a capital intensive business?

    Does this idea help them build the customer base over the long term?

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Not necessarily, profit margin is. Motor vehicles are really all about profit margin. Mercedes-Benz & BMW have no low-cost counterparts in their vehicle stable but when you get down to their nuts and bolts they don’t cost substantially more to produce than other vehicles on the market. Some of their tech does cost more and engineering can add some cost but their material cost is roughly the same. So get back to the point, if Fiat-Chrysler wants to make money they want to sell the vehicle for the most while adding the least. So T&C’s bring a greater dollar back to the company (lets say it brings back 5K) to GC’s dollar value (lets say 2K). So if they’re producing only half of what they used to they still are making more per-unit than before.

      Of course this is a simplistic example and factory shifts, line production changes, and a huge list of other things effect the production value per-unit but killing off the GC makes little sense as it is the low-cost minivan option in the game and the only reason they hold a 40% share. Minivans have totally moved from cheap transportation to opulent haulers. The Sienna/Odyssey/Quest are the only competition in the market outside of the Chrysler twins and they sell baseline in the high-20s and without looking up their transaction price I imagine in the mid-30s. That’s getting into C-class/3-series prices.

      With the small MPV class just sorta there, not really exploding in growth, I don’t see why not to keep both and just try and give the T&C some unique styling, move the GC into a more utilitarian class and push the T&C towards the techno-hauler that the foreigners sell.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “Isn’t “Volume” the magic of a capital intensive business?”

      That was GM’s strategy prior to the bankruptcy.

      • 0 avatar
        amca

        Naw, in a low marginal cost/high capital investment like the car business volume is always the name of the game. It’s just a matter of how much volume you chase.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “in a low marginal cost/high capital investment like the car business volume is always the name of the game.”

        If that was completely true, then the GM bankruptcy wouldn’t have happened.

        It’s a combination of margin and volume. Volume without branding power is doomed to fail. If GM didn’t make that clear, then I don’t know what will.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Keep both, this is a case where badge eng. works.

    • 0 avatar
      ehaase

      You’re right.

    • 0 avatar
      Acd

      Agreed. Domestic brands don’t increase volume of a model or series by killing off a clone. There are some people who would pay more for a Chrysler emblem who wouldn’t buy a Dodge even though they’re the same car.

      Right now you can get yourself a pretty nice basic van for around $25k that gives you the goodness of the new 3.6 litre and improved suspension without a lot of frills or you can move into a Chrysler and start adding as many bells and whistles as you care to until your checkbook gives out.

      The current strategy fills an assembly plant and by use of incentives Chrysler can tweak the mix to their liking.

      The part that I don’t get is “the new crossover to replace the Grand Caravan and Avenger”. Could someone please explain how a crossover can replace a 4500lb, 7 passenger minivan and a 5 passenger sedan that’s capable of being powered with a 4 cylinder engine? This sounds like when they tried to replace a 5-6 passenger, front wheel drive 4 door sedan that sold around 120,000+ units per year (Intrepid) with a rear wheel drive, 5 passenger full size station wagon (Magnum) and didn’t have large sedan until the Charger was introduced a year and a half later, and even then they didn’t equal the volume of the Intrepid.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        +1 I was thinking about this today. I was at a family gathering (my fiance’s family) and looked around at the fairly large number of Pontiacs. I really don’t see them buying Chevrolets or small inexpensive Buicks.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    Chrysler Co, has a serious brand identity problem that is only going to hurt them if they don’t fix it. Kill off the T&C and keep the caravan/ram work van (a heavy duty caravan)/rumored upcoming lifestyle truck (based on same platform). Dodge already has the journey for those who can’t stand the idea of driving a minivan, so between the minivan and the journey that segment is pretty well covered.

    Chrysler needs to define a more upscale brand image and minivans will not fit that image in the US. Bring over the 300 sport wagon that’s currently sold in Europe and add an upscale crossover to the lineup (which is what the new liberty will be). Kill off the Jeep poser cross-overs and keep Jeep as real 4×4 SUVs.

  • avatar
    rw33

    The last 4 generations of Chrysler minivans have been badge engineered clones. Moving forward they should keep both names but clearly differentiate them. sharing platforms and engines isn’t a problem but that should be the extent of it. The Lexus ES is similar to a Camry but they do a good job convincing consumers that there are differences. Chrysler can do the same. It would be stupid to kill the Caravan, especially when it outsells the T&C and is on track for another 100k+ sales year.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    All the dumb badge engineering projects that have existed over the years, and they want to end the one that actually seems to be making sense? The Grand Caravan is selling well and looks like a competitive package at a very competitive price and they are thinking of eliminating it? I just don’t understand…

  • avatar
    OldWingGuy

    What amazes me is the pound-for-pound value in these things.
    Even in Canada, the base level minivan is $20k. Comes with a V6, standard A/C, 6-speed auto.
    The used market is even better for value. Used minivans seem to depreciate quickly.
    My next winter-beater may well be a used ex-soccer-mom minivan equiped with a remote starter.

    • 0 avatar
      M. Ellis

      I have to agree with OldWingGuy. I just rented a Dodge Grand Caravan to drive ~1500 miles in 3 days. It was comfy, quiet, got ~24 miles/gal on the highway at a pretty constant speed of 70 (better at lower altitude, worse near Denver), and for a fairly ‘stripper’ rental vehicle, was generally pretty fantastic. The Stow ‘n Go seats, in particular, let me drop them into the floor and turn a passenger van into a huge cargo vehicle. (And saved my sister at least two trips to big box stores to carry stuff home if she’d been trying to do the same thing in her not-so-tiny Pilot.)

      Yes, it’s a minivan. No, nobody’s going to think it’s sexy, but the value proposition is just breathtaking. Kind of want one of these for people/cargo hauling, and a BRZ/FR-S for driving fun. Could do all of that for less than the cost of a not-particularly-loaded 3-series.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        I had a similar experience as M Ellis. Several years ago when my older daughter graduated HS, we held a huge party and lots of out of town family and friends flew in. I rented a GCvan just for airport and hotel shuttle duty. Being involved in soccer, band, and a host of church sponsored activities, I was familiar with the earlier generations of the Chrysler minivans. The newer Norge-inspired ones are a cut above the previous ones. The Stow-n-Go seats make the GCvan into a serious cargo hauler, too. I can’t say enough about them.

        My 300 year old Pontiac is going to return to the elements soon, so I’ve been sniffing around for a replacement vehicle. A GCvan (or other boxy car) would be great for me, as I could use it for Home Depot runs and hauling my drum kit around. But my wife is insisting on a SUV.

      • 0 avatar
        Acd

        Make sure you get a 2011 or newer–you definitely want the 3.6 Pentastar V6 for increased fuel mileage and power. The newer ones also ride and handle better as well.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The one you really want is the red-headed stepchild VW Routan. They sell like they are nailed to the showroom floor so the discounts are epic. My Mom bought one loaded to T&C levels for the price of a stripper Grand Caravan.

        I will agree, mighty useful vehicles if you need something so large. They really need to just be called “Vans” these days.

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      I considered picking on up as well for a winter beater but the chrysler quality when it comes to front end, steering column, and corrosion issue still concerns me. I think I’m going to try to find a volvo V70 instead.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      With stow and go, the minivan is the ultimate utility vehicle.

      The weak points holding me back on the 2007 forward Chrysler mini-vans.

      * long term reliability of the transmission
      * sliding door windows that don’t wind down
      * low ground clearance limits use on unpaved roads

      • 0 avatar
        M. Ellis

        The GC I rented had power windows on the sliding doors, as well as the driver/passenger doors and the rear vents. The power sliding doors and rear hach were also included. Couldn’t tell you about the transmission reliability or the low ground clearance, but I don’t drive on unpaved roads very often. I might try to rent one again this summer and drive up to my uncle’s ranch, at which point I’ll get a better feel for how they do offroad.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    Meh.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Personally I’d bring back the Plymouth name. What ever they call it they better pay more attention to the competition if I was to get another minivan I think I’d pick the Honda Odyssey now.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I can see that:
      Plymouth – practical family cars and sensible commuter cars.
      Dodge – aggressive muscle/sports cars “Dodge THIS, m-er $&#*(@er”. Kind of goes with the crosshair grill and the weapon-themed names (Magnum, Caliber, Avenger, Charger, Dart, etc) that they’ve been using lately.
      Chrysler – Luxury cars. Chrome it up like a Chinese Buick, and leave the kids at home.

      That would works for me. I personally am in the sensible family car camp these days, and Dodge/Chrysler does make a number of those — but the over-aggressive styling is a big turnoff for me personally, given my personal values and tastes.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Why mess with success ? The Chrysler and Dodge minivans are solid performers and solid earners. Many other parts of Chrysler may need fixing, but the minivans are golden.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I agree, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The advantage of having the Caravan as an “entry level” model is the ability to hook a younger family without a lot of money and keep them in the corporate line as they get older and theoretically wealthier and then able to buy the T&C when they have grandkids…or maybe that’s an American dream that no longer exists. I dunno, what’s the breakdown in the sales numbers between the two lines? Do they both move enough and turn a profit on their own? If one is losing money or cannibalizing a large portion of the other (more profitable) model, I can maybe understand, but if both are moving off dealer lots with minimal cash on the hood, let the $ roll in and keep your supplier costs low by buying in bulk.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    If I were to buy a so-called “mini” van, which are as large or larger than any 60′s-70′s full-sized vans, it would be a Chrysler, probably a Dodge. Just because. As stripped-down as possible to keep things simple. I do wish they would bring back the short wheelbase version. Sigh—I miss Plymouth…

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Short wheelbase? The original 1985 Caravan had a 112.1 inch wheelbase on a 176″ overall body. That’s shorter than Focus length today. The 2012 Grand Caravan has 9″ of extra wheelbase, but 27″ of extra length. Chrysler doesn’t need two “Grand” vans, it needs a basic Dodge van and a Grand Chrysler. With the weight savings in a 1985-sized Caravan and a modern I4 engine with even a 6-speed auto, the fuel economy would be outstanding.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Lorenzo: Excellent observation. My FIL gave me access to his original T115 when my kids were very little (it was his 4th car back then). I never EVER thought I would appreciate a vehicle like that (I was still trying to wrap my head around parenthood!), but the little box on wheels charmed me. I’ve lamented the loss of the original sized minivan ever since.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @geozinger:

        The Mazda 5 is almost exactly the same size as the original Caravan (I vaguely remember that it’s within about 2″ on the major exterior dimensions).

        Surprised the hell out of me, too.

      • 0 avatar
        Omnifan

        I still have my SWB Voyager and love it. Low liftover height and fantastic visibility (very small C pillars) are great. Just hauled a washer/dryer pair upright with ease. Wish I had the left sliding door, but it’s a 1995 so you take what you got.

        Make a Dodge SWB sportier van and the Chrysler LWB luxury van. Keep the sliding doors. You can’t beat them in small spaces. Folks who want the looks of a SUV can put up with the uselessness to the high liftover, inconvenient seat fold downs, and small cargo area.

  • avatar
    Lampredi

    “Chrysler Minivans Here To Stay, But Direction Remains Unclear”

    Translation: Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has yet to decide on what strategy will be the best one to f**k up Chrysler’s presence in this segment.

  • avatar
    Tom_M

    Isn’t the new model for Chrysler to have all their brands under one umbrella at the dealership? The overlap of T&C and GC seems obvious. If a customer thinks the T&C is too much money, they can walk over and get a Journey. They’re already there and they have Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and maybe even FIAT at their disposal. Add to that the increased transaction price of the T&C over the GC goes to the bottom line. Honda, Toyota and Nissan don’t even offer anything in the low $20s so I don’t see them losing sales because there is no GC because I think the GC is more competition to the T&C than any of those listed above.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Dodge GC has the low end of the minivan market cornered. If it goes away, that part of the market goes to used, not new. I find it hard to believe that Chrysler can walk away from these sales which are providing the ability for bulk parts purchasing and providing revenue to Dodge dealers. Trying to force this segment of the market upscale to T&C will fail, especially when interest rates reurn to more traditional levels. Volume production allows a lower fixed cost of production. If the volume falls 100K units, the increased fixed costs will take a big bite out of the T&C current fat margins.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Why don’t they just spin off “Caravan” as a separate marque for the entire minivan lineup, and sell the “Caravan Town & Country” and “Caravan Voyager”?.

    It would make at least as much sense as the rest of FiatChrysler’s recent branding strategies.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    This is one of those cases where I dont’ think it’s an issue. As long as both are making $$$ keep them. If one fails to be profitable, dump it. Right now I think the higher profit margin on the T&C is benefiting from the larger volume the Caravan brings in.

    This was one of those that I didn’t understand why they wanted to kill it. Most of the vehicles that have been killed I do understand why, this one. Not really.

    People who buy T&C know that it is a Caravan and yet they still buy it, because they want either the Chrysler dealer experience of the higher level trims available. I suspect people will be less willing to pay the extra for the experience they would have at a dodge dealer.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    This discussion has already taken place under the heading of “Chevrolet and GMC trucks”.

    • 0 avatar
      Acd

      And GMC is the second largest volume brand for GM with their products usually having a higher level of content which translates into higher selling prices and help keep assembly plants running at higher volumes which translates into more $$ for GM. I fail to understand why anyone would even consider eliminating the GMC brand.

  • avatar
    colin42

    I’d suggest following the Ford Europe’s direction where they brought out the Galaxy (2nd generation) as the (MPV) minivan and the S-Max for a sportier model – both on the same platform, both seat 7 but very different vehicles.

  • avatar
    Caraholica

    The only part of the minivan market Chrysler has a lock on is the rental market. These vans are so inferior to the Honda/Toyota’s that they should have their own category. The hard plastic, ugly design and generic styling does mask a decent drivetrain. But add in the uninhabitable stow and go seats, really try sitting in them for a few minutes-undersized and really hard, and the miserable dealer experience in my part of the world and Chrysler should just ship them all to Hertz. My ’96 T&C was a thing of beauty inside and out, and I loved it for 173k miles despite being miserably expensive to own. Bring back Lutz and Sperlich (yeah right) and they would have a chance. OK Rant over, moving on.

    • 0 avatar
      jc130

      correct. The stow and go seats are great for folding into the floor and for absolutely NOTHING else. I sat in my brother’s 2005 T&C van on the fold in floor seats and it was a friggin plank. Compared to my 2001 T&C second-row captains it was torture. When I want to haul cargo (or get maybe +1 mpg on a trip to grandma’s house)? I take the back seats out. Old school. I will not buy a van with stow and go second row, so it’s probably Honda Oddy for my next one. Which is too bad because I actually LIKE the GC R/T version marketed to sad loser Dads, but I won’t buy it because of the seats.

      • 0 avatar
        nrd515

        Wow, that’s like 180 degrees from my experience with the stow and go seats. I actually fell asleep for an hour in my friend’s GC on a 4 hour trip. I pretty much never sleep in a moving car. I was fine at the end of the trip. Worst seats I ever had were the ones in my 1999 JGC. I got rid of it in 18 months. I really hated them. Best seats I ever had was the bench seat in my 1977 Dodge Power Wagon. Nothing before or sense has come close. I could drive all day, and felt great.

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    Just make them look different from each other and for the love of god, fix that D pillar. Even the Routan one looks better and that’s embarrassing.

    • 0 avatar
      jc130

      The next Chrysler vans should ape the VW styling. That actually looks good. Though I am maybe the one person in the world who liked the 700c concept.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    I’ve been thinking about the “man’s minivan” a bit lately.

    Everyone seems to assume that turning a minivan into a sports car or a muscle is the “mans minivan”. That’s fine, if you’re in to that… But a Grand Caravan RT doesn’t do much for me.

    But there’s another way to make the “man’s minivan”. Most minivans are too plushy by half. Another direction to go is to make a practical kid-friendly commercial utility van. Think about a Nissan NV200 or a Transit Connect (low-roof version) with a good crash ratings, folding seats, and with LATCH+top-tethers clearly marked. But it’s still a vehicle that you could clean out with a hose when your kid throws up in the back seat, or after you haul a load of compost home. Also, it needs to be able to haul sheet goods back from the hardware store. The Town & Country, Odyssey, and Sienna are just too civilized by half for this kind of thing — and for me.

    But, for now, I’ll make it work with a civilized car and a utility trailer. I looked at a Transit Connect before I bought my Escape, and fell in love with it — but the Transit Connect only has a 6′ load floor (rather than the 8′ floor that I was looking for), and a used Escape and the a trailer was a much cheaper and more kid-friendly replacement for my old Ranger.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States