By on December 24, 2006

dodge_caravan_1983222.jpgWhen dairy cows go dry, farmers have them “freshened” (that’s what bulls are for). Chrysler’s long-time cash cows, its minivans, have gone dry. After an eleven year hiatus, the bulls have been busy. The embattled carmaker will reveal the long overdue “freshening” of their once mighty Dodge Caravan / Chrysler Town and Country models at the Detroit auto show in January. The re-styled ’08 minivans are critical to Chrysler’s profits. Will they restore their fruitful dominance or produce a mere blip on a sales chart with a decidedly downwards trajectory?

Although there's considerable debate on this point, Chrysler is generally credited with inventing the modern minivan. The minivan certainly reinvented Chrysler. After flirting with oblivion, the original Caravan and Voyager pumped billions into Chrysler's coffers in the mid ‘80’s through the '90’s. The minivan was such a successful suburban schlepper that it created its own demographic: the soccer Mom. The product’s popularity peaked at 1.6m units in 2000, when Chrysler owned some 45% of the market.

At last count, U.S. minivans sales have fallen below the one million mark. Sales of the once mighty Dodge/Chrysler twins have tumbled from a height of 650k annual units, to today’s estimated 400k units. Even worse, DCX’ door sliders are struggling to keep their slice of the diminishing pie. The models’ combined market share has fallen below 39%. Given the number of DCX minivans’ that find their way into rental fleets, their retail market share is probably closer to 35%.

Obviously enough, DCX’ minivan-related profits have taken a major hit. The company hasn’t been able to fully utilize both its Windsor, Ontario and St. Louis, Missouri minivan plants for quite some time. Even so, there's a minivan glut on dealers' lots and empty spaces (bank on it). The discrepency between ongoing supply and falling demand has meant massive incentives at the sharp end; trimming yet more profit from the products’ increasingly thin margins. Rather than fight for a slice of the diminishing pie, Ford and GM have in-sinkerated the minivan entries and cooked-up new entries for the so-called crossover market.

Most analysts are pessimistic about the minivan’s future. Many claim baby boomers are all boomed-out; they’re now looking for comfort rather than space. Meanwhile, soft roaders and crossover utility vehicles (CUVs)– some of which now come with third row seating– are encroaching deep into minivanland. Others aren’t so gloomy. They maintain that the genre’s family-friendly combination of safety, practicality and frugality is fundamentally sound. They say the right minivan could shake-off the Mom-mobile image and reinvigorate the entire niche.

Chrysler’s minivan situation is deeply reminiscent of the Ford Taurus, which fell from the top of U.S. passenger car sales when long product cycles, poor reliability, ageing technology and boring styling allowed the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord to dominated passenger car sales. Although Chrysler’s minivans ruled the domestic market for years, that dominance didn’t include a bullet-proof rep. Their minivans have a dubious mechanical legacy, including a self-destructing Ultradrive transmission and disastrous early ABS. With Mercedes behind them– at least in theory– Chrysler may have a fighting chance. If Chrysler builds a minivan that's only slightly better than their last effort, if they don't leapfrog the competition, they're screwed.

Chrysler’s new minivan must face down the Honda and Toyota, both of which produced minivans that came from nowhere to slowly and inexorably carve out about 34% of the market. At the same time, Chrysler’s '08 faces new competition from the Kia Sedona, and its Hyundai twin the Entourage. Both models are scooping up budget-minded buyers left high and dry by Ford and GM’s withdrawal from the market.    

Spy pics of the DCX new minivan show another big, bland, boring box. The rumor mill suggests that Chrysler’s new minivans will be blessed with styling influences from the 300C. If so, it’s a calculated risk. As GM found out the hard way with its “dust-buster” Lumina MPV, minivan buyers generally favor conservative styling.  They tend to look for practical qualities like reliability, build and interior quality, reputation, resale value, etc. Stow and Go or no, these are not qualities generally associated with today’s Chrysler/Dodge. Chrysler projects sales between 430k to 480k annually.

DCX will do well to maintain current minivan volumes. In fact, in category after category, Chrysler is looking ever more vulnerable. The Pacifica is toast, the 300C/Charger may have seen their best days, the Sebring will flop and the Challenger will share a pie with the Camaro and Mustang. Chrysler’s drying minivan teat is genuine cause for concern. It’s time to face facts: thanks to the transplant's persistence, there are no more cash cows.

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60 Comments on “DCX: Minivan Man RIP?...”


  • avatar
    JJ

    Although there’s considerable debate on this point, Chrysler is generally credited with inventing the modern minivan.

    Yes, well, Europeans like to think the Espace was the first modern minivan (not counting the Microbus and original Multipla, amongst others). Both were introduced at about the same time.

    The Espace was a great succes too, in spite of the built quality that, like the Chrysler’s, to say the least wasn’t great. Clearly their were a lot of people that “needed” these kind of vehicles so much they accepted the poor quality.

    Although the Espace still is the minivan market leader in Europe, I believe that market is down here too. Don’t have any figures but it seems I see a lot less of them since SUVs (X5/RAV4 that is, not Tahoe) took of here about a decade ago.
    Apart from SUVs there are also the “midiMPVs” that took a share of the market (Opel Zafira, Renault Scenic, Volkswagen Touran etc) and other variations, like for instance, the Ford S-Max and Seat Altea. There is just a lot more choice and more differentation.

    The Espace by the way was designed by Matra (independant sportscar/former F1 builder, think Jacky Stewart) who decided they weren’t going to built it under their own lable. Matra first went to Peugeot to sell them the concept but they decided they didn’t like it that much. Which was quite understandable, given the otherwise great cars that formed their line-up at that time…
    Who knows, maybe some people who worked their went to GM later on.

    Only after that rejection the Matra people went to Renault and the rest of course, is history…

  • avatar

    And this article isn’t under DCX suicide watch because…?

  • avatar
    tom

    JJ:

    I’ve never seen many vans (real vans, not the Touran) in Germany, except of course for commercial ones (mostly MB Viano or VW T5).

    Interestingly, if I see a non-commercial van, it’s mostly the Chrysler Voyager (=Town & Country). Maybe that’s selective perception on my part, but I think Chrysler is doing quite well there in recent years.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    It’s no surprise that Toyota and Honda have been able to chip away at DCX’ minivan market share. I’ve ridden in friends’ DCX minis and unless you buy an upscale trim – and I’m not sure how far upscale you have to go – the interiors feel cheap, especially the back seats. The Toyota and Honda interiors, while not luxurious, at least feel like they’ll last a few years without falling apart.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    At 74, I don’t always get in and out of my Sonata gracefully. Yesterday, when I was at the dealer for an oil change, I looked seriously at the Hundai Entourage and decided that it totally outclasses my daughter’s DCX van and comes in at a lot fewer dollars than any of the competition.

    Regardless of what DCX conjures up and based on the quality and reliability of my Sonata, I would definitely go for the Entourage.

    If DCX does take styling cues from the 300, that would be the final nail in the coffin for me since I think that the 300 and its siblings are ugly and I will not drive an ugly vehicle.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    The japanese refreshes are often major engineering changes, while the domestic refreshes are almost just cosmetic.

    EG, the 2000 “redesign” for the Taurus was almost entirely cosmetic: same wheelbase, same engines, etc… Really nothing more than some Botox.

    While the 1998 and 2002 revisions of the Accord were significantly more substantial, and there is another big one due for 2008…

  • avatar
    windswords

     The minivan made Chrysler wildly profitable so it could pay off it's government guaranteed loans made by private banks years before they were due (no taxpayers were harmed in the saving of this company). This gave them the money to develop new vehicles (good) and to buy Jeep (also good) and other non-automotive companies like Gulfstream (bad).   This article, is better suited for the Suicide Watch series than the review of the Sebring because it talks about market trends, competition, and product plans, not just one persons opinion about one car. Pahaska: I understand your concerns but I have to tell you I rented a Kia Sedona recently. It is the twin of the Entourage. It was a competant vehicle but I don't think it is superior to the current Chrysler minivan let alone the new one that will be out soon. So at least withhold judgement till you see the new ones.

  • avatar
    Rday

    I purchased an 02 Dodge Grand Caravan and drove it for 3 years. When I decided to get a truck the value of the Dodge was prox. half the value of a Honda Odyssey comparable equipped and priced. This single incident convinced me that Detroit products are just too expensive to own. I now own a Toyota Pruis and a Honda Ridgeline. My family and friends all seem to drive one of the above brands too. I don't think there is anything that Detroit has or will have coming that can convince me to go back anytime soon. Like many Americans Detroit has just savaged them too much and they are no longer willing to be seduced by high paid movie stars and hip hop musicians. While Detroit brings out all the glitz and bling, Toyota, Honda and others guietly soldier on taking more market share and profits from the American companies. I am convinced that Detroit cannot or will not do the necessary things to avoid the coming train wreck. They seem completely out of touch with what the American consumer wants. Just reducing employment will not save them. They need better products than the competition. Don't hold your breath on this happening.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    The spy photos I’ve seen suggest a forthcoming Chrysler minivan design that is considerably less graceful than the current generation (which, to my eyes, has been the best in the business).

    We can quibble about what constitutes a “new-generation” design, but I think the basic argument holds that Chrysler should have been more aggressive in protecting its minivan franchise.

    What of the VW partnership? That seems potentially problematic for both DCX and VW even if sheet metal is differentiated. I didn’t like the slavishly retro design of the microbus concept, but it’s too bad that VW hasn’t done more with this cultural icon. An effective microbus design could have more staying power than the New Beetle.

  • avatar
    JJ

    I’ve never seen many vans (real vans, not the Touran) in Germany, except of course for commercial ones (mostly MB Viano or VW T5).

    Well, I live in the Netherlands, and their might well be some regional differences in car choices amongst different countries in Europe (possible cause and big frustration of mine, taxing differences, come to mind).

    Also, in general I think you can say Germans (and people from Italy and the UK) like their cars more then the average Dutch citizens (tough to define this one, I know).

    I guess this is also partly due to legislation; due to the taxes everybody is forced to buy low-spec Astras and it’s hard to see the fun in that. Buy an X5 (or something in that price range) and you’ll spend 20-30k Euro more on it then you would have if you lived a couple of miles further east – for you Americans; no I’m not exaggerating.

    My point being, the Dutch car park is on average a lot more dreary then that in Germany, so you would expect to see more vans here. As I said before I think I’m seeing less of them now then I was a view years ago. Again, I have no figures. I do know however that the Espace is still market leader in its segment.

    As for the Voyager, the 2nd gen sold quite well but they’re all broken down now, and I rarely see new ones. When it was launched I remember reading a view car reviews comparing it to the Espace and it lost out badly. I guess it’s just (literally) out of the picture now. Unless you go to Germany, apparently…

  • avatar
    rudiger

    What of the VW partnership?

    I was kind of wondering about this one, myself. If it doesn’t happen (which it probably won’t since there’s been no word of it for some time), it’s unfortunate because this would have been a great way for the DCX minivan to break out of the ‘soccer mom’ segment and into a more ‘sporty’ venue, i.e., a sporty, mini-RV designed for brief, weekend camping outings.

    It would have worked particularly well for VW since they actually had a ‘weekender’ version of the last Eurovan where the rear bench seat folded flat and converted into a bed. The problem with the Eurovan was it was hampered by an exhorbitant price, awkward driving characteristics due to an ungainly design, poor performance, and dismal fuel mileage. A new ‘weekender’ Eurovan based on the 2008 DCX minivan might have been able to address all of these issues and became more appealing to a much wider, non-soccer mom market segment. In fact, DCX’s ‘Stow-n-Go’ seating would have seemed to have been a natural basis for conversion into something along these lines.

    As it is, I suspect the 2008 DCX minivan will end up being nothing more that a slightly warmed over version of the current van, further unable to compete with the segment-leading Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.

    As someone else pointed out, one of the few things the current DCX minivan had going for it versus the Toyota and Honda offerings was styling that had great eye-appeal (for a minivan), but from the spy photos, it appears that the 2008 is going back to strictly straight two-box styling and will lose one of the few things it had going for it.

  • avatar
    James2

    Minivans make a hell of a lot more sense than almost any SUV or, lately, “crossover” vehicles. As pure people movers they are unmatched in terms of space and practicality. Pity the market is dying due, in part, to image matters… a.k.a. the soccer-mom mobile.

    As for who invented the minivan, the Japanese for decades had these things running around Tokyo and never bothered to bring them over until Chrysler “invented” the genre. My friend had one of the first Toyota minivans where the engine was installed under the driver’s seat. It was great fun when I borrowed it to move to a new apartment.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    “And I heard him say, as he travelled afar
    Merry Chriatmas to all, and to all a good car!”

    Ciao all.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    i cant beleive that i misspelled Christmas.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    I think unless MB came out with a minivan and let Chrysler/Dodge share the platform, the Chrysler/Dodge minivan series’ domination is done forever (or would you rather say already finished years ago).

    Pacifica would have been an excellent minivan, too bad they screw up the design by making it too expensive, drink too much fuel, and not roomy enough. Since they are killing the pacifica, they should really design the next minivan using pacifica’s look and make it a dual sliding door van. Forget about having a big engine in there, use a 2.4L I4 (with optional 3.0L V6)and a 6 speed auto, add some comfortable seats, more insulation, and better grade plastic, then you have a winner.

    IMO Toyota and Honda overcharge their van and people are forced to buy it because the domestic screw up too much. Now that Hyundai and Kia are designing good van for the price, that will keep Toyota and Honda more humble in terms of pricing.

    DCX should also do what Ford did – stripping power away from the bean counters and let the engineers/designers do their jobs.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    After owning a SUV for the past few years and having a 5 month old baby, we are seriously looking at a minivan. Why ? Space, convenience, improved ride and better fuel economy. How many other people feel the same ? I wont even consider a domestic because they dont take that market segment seriously. Heck, a salesman at a GM dealership told me that they are getting out of the minivan market. Meantime, I see quite a few Honda and Toyota vans rolling by (and more all the time).

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Obviously no one “invented” the mini-van, but I give Chrysler credit for taking a huge risk in the US (like Renault did in France), and what they did “invent”, which was the market for the typical modern FWD/car based mini-van.

    Regarding the fall in profits (or increase in losses?): I paid $21K for a new ’92 Grand Caravan ($30K today, inflation adjusted), and I see ads in the paper pushing Grand Caravans for $16,998. Almost half the price! I also still have it, but that’s another story.

  • avatar
    tom

    JJ, I just looked into some numbers…it seems that I was totally off…Chrysler sold a mere 2500 Minivans in Germany so far this year (Jan-Nov). Maybe I just payed more attention to those “exotic” vehicles.

    Renault sold twice as many Espaces. What’s really hot though is the Opel Zafira, sold 45,000 times. The only other Minivan selling more than 10,000 units is the VW Sharan at 11,000.

    Then there’s what the Germans call the “Utilities” which are basically all sorts of vehicles primeraly designed for commercial use, all of which are usually also availiable for personal usage (i.e. some as Minivans). Some of those minivans like the VW Caravelle (40,000) or the MB Viano (13,000) are selling quite well as well.

    Even hotter than minivans are what I like to call “tinyvans” like the VW Touran (78,000), the MB B-Class (58,000) or the Opel Meriva (50,000). I wonder if those vehicles would work in the States…

    But I think Chrysler can hardly profit from MB in this segment. The B-Class as of now would be too small and too expensive to sell it in the States as a Chrysler while the Viano just doesn’t have all those nifty things like easy folding seats or handy storage compartments, since it was mainly designed for commercial use.

    If anyone here is interested in what the Germans like to drive, here are all the numbers in a pdf:

    http://www.kba.de/Stabsstelle/Presseservice/Pressemitteilungen/pressemitteilungen2006/SegmenteModelle/segmente_11_2006.pdf

    I find it quite interesting, maybe even relevant in terms of what might come around next in the US. And you don’t even need to speak German, it’s mostly car names and numbers and they work in every language.

    Apart from that,
    MERRY CHRISTMAS TO EVERYONE!!!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    The Caravan, badged a Chrysler, sold reasonably well in germany and Austria during the late ’90’s, before the competition from Euro-vans increased. Keep in mind that they were manufactured in Austria, at the Magna factory that also cranked out Grand Cherokees for years. The Austrian-made Caravans had a 2.5/2.8 turbo diesel, and was considered to be better built than the US versions. Saw surprisingly many last time I was there in 1999.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    From what I recall reading in a piece that appeared in an AutoWeek long since recycled, it was American Motors that first built a prototype minivan, under the direction of the late head of design, Richard Teague. It was built in the late '70s. It wasn't built for several reasons: Renault bought them and saw no point to it, money was tight and no one saw the potential market for it, at that time. As for now, it seems that young families will flock to the best of the crossover vehicles, such as Mazda is building. Older women, now moms or grandmothers, don't want to be seen in minivans. I know a few and they always tell me the same old saw: "I feel safer in a SUV." Unsaid is the fact that they feel less like a female dork. The television ads have done a masterful job of convincing the average middle-aged housewife that she will look like Angelina Jolie portraying Lara Croft, when driving that big hearkin' Land Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser or yes, even the GMC Yukon or Cadillac Escalade. And we wonder why we still have troops in the Middle-East protecting all those oil fields. As Frank Sinatra reportedly once said (to author Pete Hamill), "It's a weird world isn't it?"

  • avatar
    rudiger

    PandaBear: “DCX should also do what Ford did – stripping power away from the bean counters and let the engineers/designers do their jobs.”

    Considering how the Turdstar ended up, I’m not sure DCX should be following Ford’s lead on minivan design.

  • avatar
    macarose

    I am going to go out on the proverbial limb here and disagree though a lot of legitimate points have been made.

    The minivan market segment is far from dead (or even dying). In fact it’s in an excellent position to become far more important and profitable over the next several years than crossover vehicles.

    The issue here is what sells. Minivans, and the architecture that underpins the majority of competitive models, are able to offer consumers more room, comfort, luxury, features, and safety than virtually anything else in the marketplace for the money. In America these qualities sell everything from Camrys to Cadillacs in droves and still represents the target attributes for the majoirty of car buyers. That hasn’t changed since tail fins were put on shamu sized Chevrolets and it won’t be changing anytime soon.

    The unfortunate thing, for now, is that minivans aren’t being given the same shake with innovative ideas as other market segments. It’s supposed to be a ‘conservative’ homeland but, I believe that’s because some of the better ideas in the American minivan market have yet to be seriously tried.

    Consider the following….

    1) Push button folding seats

    This has been around in the conversion van industry for decades. In the years to come it’s going to be a standard feature in the majority of minivans as well. For older folks it will avoid the hassle of the multi-step folding process and for families it will make hauling a lot easier as well.

    2) Diesel / Hybrid Engines

    One of the reasons why the Chrysler minivan sold so well in Europe is because the diesel engine used there was the best in class. If Chrysler has the courage to offer and successfully market an exceptional diesel minivan ahead of Honda (emphasis on exceptional), they will be able to regain leadership throughout the entire span of the segment. Instead of just the mid to lower end niches of minivan-land.

    3) Features, Convenience, and Comfort.

    TV’s, DVD players, Gaming systems, Satellite Internet and Radio, Coolers, Refrigerators, and even (dare I say it), Quad Seating for the 3rd Row could really help Chrysler in the eyes of the market. One thing that’s always surprised me is that Chrysler never really tried to go that route over the past several years, even though the Sprinter has increasingly become the van of choice in the conversion market.

    4) Offer a premium minivan beyond the Town & Country

    The Dodge Sprinter chassis offers an excellent foundation for a niche that has yet to be explored by Chrysler. In fact, many conversion man makers are able to sell Sprinter conversions at the $70,000+ level and beyong. Just like SUV’s, the minivan market is becoming increasingly fragmented and the opportunity for a $40,000+ premium minivan is definitely there. The question is whether Mercedes, ummm, I mean Chrysler is capable of becoming a first mover in this area.

    There are dozens of other possibilities that can come into play. A minivan division, modular designs,…. right now my free time away from family is up. My wife just pulled up in a minivan ;)

    All the best

    macarose / Steven Lang

  • avatar
    pauln

    Steven: I agree with you that the mini-van concept is an enduring one, and has intrinsic advantages. Americans are very faddish, and the CUV is “in”, despite being less practical and efficient. I hope the segment does come back. My main point is that DCX’s share of the segment has been sliding.

    The Sprinter is not a mini-van. It’s a van. In Europe, MB does sell a VW mini-van competitor with RWD, diesels, etc.

    Actually, the diesel used in Euro Caravans was made by MotoriVM, and was somewhat crude, but effective (the same engine sold last year in the Jeep Liberty). Not a class leader. MB has class leading diesels, but the CDI/Bluetec V6 was not designed for FWD/transverse use. It would take a real committment ($) for MB to engineer it for the Caravan.

  • avatar
    Rday

    Well I like minivans. I have had 5 over the last 16 years. Two Dodges and 3 Windstars. I liked them all fairly well. Except for the high maintenance on them. They ride great and are fairly reasonable on gas consumption. I would still be driving one today if my job hadn’t required me to get a truck. I think they will be around for many years. With more mini minivans coming out there will more opportunities for families to take advantage of their benefits. Just like Detroit to give up on a stable market. Detroit better start deciding that they have to fight the Japanese and get serious or it will be over for them. Still hate Chrysler’s terrible resale value on minivans.

  • avatar
    macarose

    Paul, I agree 110%. I believe Chrysler’s main difficulties in this segment have to do with the last two redesigns which were… well… pathetic.

    The 1996 Grand Caravan is nearly just as good as the 2007 models. With the exception of the Crown Victoria, Town Car and the GM minivans I know of no other vehicle in the North American market that has stagnated so long in terms of overall development.

    Daimler is the primary culprit in the lack of investment and innovation. The only saving grace for Chrysler is that their minivans were truly ahead of their time and that most manufacturers have either missed the mark (VW, Kia, Nissan, Mazda) or made terrible decisions that lead to severe declines for their offerings (GM, Ford).

    The Sprinter has very serious potential in this market for the same reason that Expeditions, Suburbans, and X5’s became so popular in the US. Minivan buyers want size (with comfort and fuel economy) and they want features that make them feel like kings and queens of the road.

    The Sprinter wasn’t supposed to be a player in the conversion market. But the fuel economy, along with the superior space, mileage and ride, have made it the chassis of choice for many CV companies. Their decision to invest in the Sprinter and make it the highest profit conversion in the American market wasn’t an accident. It’s the qualities of the Sprinter, compared with the Ford and GM full-sized van offerings, that made it a new standard in this segment.

    If Daimler/Chrysler desires profit in these coming years I believe they would most likely find it in what may be described as the full-sized or premium minivan segment. The engines and technology are already within the Daimler powertrains and their primary suppliers. The issue is whether the Germans are willing to make the investment that Chrysler so desperately needs at the moment.

  • avatar

    When I was shopping for a new car 6 month ago, I was looking at cars that looked attractive in design but not extremely expensive, the Ford Fusion was one of them, the Dodge Charger was another, but that thing with depreciation drove me to a Japanese car show room.
    No matter how good on paper these cars are, and no matter how much effort Ford or Dodge might put into quality control, I predict that the Fusion and Dodge will loose value the same way the Taurus did and still does.
    It’s a shame that Toyota, Honda Nissan and all the rest are making cars in the same place where the big 3 failed.
    In NYC, minivan yellow cabs are Toyota and Honda, they probably know that a Dodge Caravan is not up to the task for a good reason.

  • avatar
    macarose

    “No matter how good on paper these cars are, and no matter how much effort Ford or Dodge might put into quality control, I predict that the Fusion and Dodge will loose value the same way the Taurus did and still does.”

    And you base this on……

    “It’s a shame that Toyota, Honda Nissan and all the rest are making cars in the same place where the big 3 failed.”

    And you base this on……

    “In NYC, minivan yellow cabs are Toyota and Honda, they probably know that a Dodge Caravan is not up to the task for a good reason.”

    Caravans are actually used quite often by Mexican taxi companies here in Atlanta and throughout the southern part of the US. In NYC, the most predominant taxi vehicle by far is the Ford Crown Victoria. Toyota/Honda minivans are not a serious player due to their high repair and acquisition costs.

  • avatar
    windswords

    dror:

    “I predict that the Fusion and Dodge will loose value the same way the Taurus did and still does.”

    As long as you and others will be “driven” to a Japanese car showroom then domestics will depreciate faster. You have to buy a car in large numbers (new and used) to keep the value up. If everyone keeps buying imports even though as you indicated that the domestics were as good or better they will still depreciate faster. If the domestics are putting out a comparable product then it is up to the consumer to create demand and therefore resale value for them.

    As a historical note, the Chrysler minivans used to enjoy one of the highest resale values on the market. In other words they did not depreciate, becuase they were the best thing in its class.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Here is some Minivan history paraphrased and condensed from Allpar.com.

    It is true that Ford was working on a minivan in the 70’s, but Chrysler too had been developing a similar concept as far back as the early to mid 1970’s, with full development starting in 1980. Tthe launch was originally to be in 1981, but that the minivan project was put on hold for the Y-body Imperial. Chrysler minivan went thru two incarnations. The first generation designs (called a “garageable van”) were rear wheel drive because Chrysler did not have front wheel drive engines or transmissions at that time.

    Chrysler Europe was working with Matra on a minivan in the late 1970’s – early 1980’s. When it was ready to go into production, Chrysler sold most of its European operations to Peugeot-Citroen (PSA), which dumped the fledgling minivan. Matra took the design to Renault, which modified it to fit the Renault 21 drivetrain…resulting in a calendar-year 1983 introduction and Europe’s most popular minivan (Espace). If Chrysler had held on to it they may have had a greater European foot-hold than today.

    Hal Sperlich (who camer over from Ford before Iacocca) contributed greatly to the success of the program with his enthusiastic involvement, esthetic input, and overall guidance of the program. Iacocca gets credit for his support and the “guts” decision to go ahead with a now even more expensive FWD product at a time when the Corporation was having trouble paying its bills and maintaining product competitiveness in existing market segments.

    Hal Sperlich and Lee Iacocca deserve credit for the final design execution and the decision to go ahead with production of the minivan – but not the idea.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Something missing from the previous poster’s minivan history is that Hal Sperlich had actually pitched the minivan idea to Henry Ford II while he was at Ford. Unfortunately, while Sperlich was brilliant, he also had an abrasive personality and ‘Hank the Deuce’ hated him, regardless of how brilliant his ideas might have been.

    The only reason Sperlich got to stay at Ford was because Iaccoca realized how smart he was. Of course, when Ford eventually managed to get rid of Sperlich, Iacocca knew his days at Ford were numbered, as well.

    It was just sweet revenge when Iacocca made the move to Chrysler he was able to hire Sperlich, who was then able to implement the minivan idea that he had originally pitched to Ford. The rest, as they say, is history.

  • avatar
    tom

    In NYC, minivan yellow cabs are Toyota and Honda, they probably know that a Dodge Caravan is not up to the task for a good reason.

    First of all, I agree with you!

    But secondly, if it was the other way round, of course there would be people to tell us, that the fact, that most NYC minivan yellow cabs were DCX or Ford or GM is because they are so bad nobody but fleets will buy them -> bigger depreciation -> nobody want’s to buy them unless they are sold with huge incentives.

    Of course that second statement would make sense as well. But at the same time they contradict each other. So what do we learn?

    Well, nothing actually. Only that you always have to make up your own mind. Period.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    We have owned 3 Chrysler/Plymouth minivans. The first was an ’86, the second was a 92, and the third a 98. We still have the 98. We probably will not buy another minivan. We bought the first one when our middle child was 2. She is now 22 and graduated from college. Our baby is 19 and is in college. A CR-V or a RAV4 would suit us just fine now.

    We killed the engine on the first one (a 2.4L 4) driving the kids to the beach over the West Virginia Turnpike. The second got cranky after 6 years, 90K miles and more beach trips. The latest only has 70K miles after 8 years.

    One major issue is that there are no truly mini vans on the market anymore. The 86 was 176″L,72″W and Weighed less than 3200 lbs. The new ones are 200″L, 79″W and weigh a half-ton more. The bottom level Dodge is a foot shorter and a bit lighter, but there are no compact size vans on the market.

    If $3/gal is the modal price of gasoline for the next few years, the mini-van that the world awaits needs to be smaller.

  • avatar
    Terry

    “One major issue is that there are no truly mini vans on the market anymore. The 86 was 176″L,72″W and Weighed less than 3200 lbs. The new ones are 200″L, 79″W and weigh a half-ton more. The bottom level Dodge is a foot shorter and a bit lighter, but there are no compact size vans on the market.

    If $3/gal is the modal price of gasoline for the next few years, the mini-van that the world awaits needs to be smaller. ”

    Yes, there is. 2 weeks ago, I purchased a ’07 Mazda5 for my wife.
    181.5″L, 64.2″H, weight is 3333lbs.
    153HP 2.3L 4-cyl, FWD 4-sp Auto(avail 5-speed Manual, fully independent suspension. 6-passenger seating, the 2nd and 3rd row seats fild flat, storage bins under the 2nd row seat cushions, dual sliding rear doors.
    The wife LOVES it!! She still gets to sit a bit higher than surrounding vehicles, the 5 is turbine-like smooth, quick, and QUIET. She especially likes the interior niceties and sliding doors. She drives it like it’s a Miata.
    This, after driving a ’92 Mazda MPV for the last 9+ years, and a ’89 MPV before that. (Hit by a redlight runner head on at 45 mph with my 2 kids in the car. Van totalled, family unscathed!!)
    I now use the ’92 as MY hauler, but after all this time, I decided that FWD, full front and side curtain airbags, 40% better MPG, 4-wheel discs and all the other technology in the 5 was the way to go for her.
    In ’06 there was an exhaust recall, but other than that, we have seen ZERO problems with the Mazda5at the dealership I work for.
    I’m surprised that Toyota and Honda do not have a competitor in the US for this segment.

  • avatar
    windswords

    rudiger: I agree with you about Sperlich. I did say that Ford was working on the minivan in the 70’s although I didn’t say that Sperlich was involved (I assumed that would be inferred from the text).

    However Sperlich did go to Chrysler before Ioccoca did. Chrysler also was working on a minivan concept (the “garageable van” I mentioned), but it was rear wheel drive (as I think was Ford’s). It might have been Sperlich who championed front wheel drive and because of his relationship with Lee was able to get his backing.

    By the way I believe that ‘Hank the Deuce’ hated Sperlich because he was an associate of Ioccoca (since Henry hated Lee as well) in addition to the abrasive personality you mentioned, so Sperlich’s firing was the process of cutting out support for Lee prior to firing him as well.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    I like the idea of a bland boring box. This is a minivan, not a styling statement. GM learned their lesson with the APV/Silhouette combo (which they quickly forgot with these new minivans), Nissan learned their lesson with the Quest. They need a van with family friendly features and bulletproof reliability more than they need styling. Put those students of Chip Foose to better use and make a stylish car and give us a good van.

  • avatar
    fellswoop

    Here is a link to spy pix of the unreleased DCX minivan:
    http://www.allpar.com/model/m/2008-minivans.html

    Regarding the glowing review of the Mazda5, a question for the thread: is the Ford Edge the Ford version (eg. escape/tribute) of that vehicle?

    I’ve a bit of a thing for minivans, as I love the clubhouse on wheels feeling. I’ve used my parents’ 2001 Dodge minivan to move many times, and I’ve always been impressed at how well the bottom-of-the-line version of that vehicle works. It’s comfy on the highway, has good torque away from lights in town, and fits a crap-ton of stuff in the back with the seats out, although removing the seats is a ridiculously arduous affair on that thing.

    However, the last time I borrowed it the transmission sh!t the bed and my GF and I had to limp it back to my ‘rents to hav it fixed. “Thanks for letting us use the car, dad!” Turns out whatever happened is the well known weakness referenced in the article above.

    Interesting effect of all these pessimistic articles and “death watches” is that I’m really aware of the problems now, and really rooting for US (ish) manufacturers to get it together and survive.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    No, the edge is the version of the CX-7 Mazda.

    The 5 is a european market “Space Van” based on the Mazda3 platform.

  • avatar
    thx_zetec

    I own a minivan (2005 Toyota Sienna) and I love it. For me the fact that mini-vans are not “cool” is a plus – I like violating automotive fashion. For anyone considering a minivan I encourage you to check them out. The ride, handling, and economy are as good as the utility.

    For hauling people a minivan is more useful than most SUV”s, more so even than a Tahoe which weighs ~1000 lb more. To get same utility you’d have to get a Nimitz class SUV, suburban or Expedition. Couple of times I hauled about half ton of flooring, it did fine, and has lots of interior volume. Of course I can’t tow much.

    I might like minivans, but this won’t necesarily save them. Americans seem to shun useful car designs, hatchbacks and station wagons don’t get much respect here. Regardless ~million units per year is nothing to sneeze at, there will always be family guys like me – cheap, practical, and unfashionable.

    As far as suggestions for improving

    1. power folding seats: seems useless to me. My wife and I have no problem using existing seats, this is just more weight, cost, and potential breakage.
    2. Diesel / Hybrid: Hybirds add weight and complexity, would likely limit interior volume. I would love a diesel though.
    3. Features: Fridge sounds like a good idea – but again weight and cost, also reduces room, and more cleaning.

    My suggestions for Chrysler-Daimler:
    1. Washable interior: Make interior easier to clean. Less nooks and crannies, some parts removable and dishwasher compatible, floor mats that can be put in washing maching.
    2. Second Row: third row stows flat, 2nd row is pain toremove. Stow and go 2nd row would rock (they might already have this)
    3. Tie-down points in front rear: Good roof rack is one thing, but when you haul canoe matress etc tie down is needed. Like many modern cars minivans often have no good tie down options.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    Mini-vans are not mini anymore and most don’t want them to be. The vans that sell the best the Sienna and odyssey are huge and that what people want. The problem with DCX is their vans are not even close to Toyota or Honda. The quality, the interiors the poststamp navigation is all crap. The stow and go seating while a novelty make the seats hard and small. No one wants hard and small seats in a minivan they want a livingroom on wheels. DCX need to step up and deliver something 120% better than the competition.

    Mini-vans are here to stay and you will see some migration back to them and possible the Lambda based CUVs from GM.

  • avatar
    macarose

    I still believe that a premium, super-sized minivan would do extremely well in the States.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    ” I still believe that a premium, super-sized minivan would do extremely well in the States.”

    I agree. Volvo should have built it 10 years ago instead of wasting resources on the ill conceived C70 coupe and convertible. Why none of the premium brands ever introduced a top-shelf minivan is a mystery to me. It would be a perfect vehicle for Volvo’s traditional family image.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Regarding the glowing review of the Mazda5, a question for the thread: is the Ford Edge the Ford version of that vehicle?

    I think the closest Ford relatives to the Mazda5 are the EU Ford C-Max, S-Max, and Galaxy people movers, built on the C1 and EUCD platforms.

    Mini-vans are here to stay and you will see some migration back to them and possible the Lambda based CUVs from GM.

    Lambda triplets lack two of the advantages of minivans – increased interior space (by 30-40 cu ft) and sliding doors. Not to mention they start at $28k, with discounted minivans hovering around $20k.

    Yes, the minivan is here to stay in its current incarnation, a 2 ton, 200″ long box on wheels. Will DCX raise the bar as prior vans have, or will the 2008 be treading water, just keeping up with the likes of Honda, Toyota, Hyundai/Kia? We find out in under 2 weeks…

  • avatar
    Ryan

    I can’t neccesarily say that it’s the absolute wisest move, but the way DCX is going stylisically with the new vans makes a bit of sense. Part of the reason that minivans have such a stigma is because so few people without families buy them. Make it look cool, and drop in a Hemi, and all of a sudden, you don’t have a mommy-mobile, you’ve got a muscle car that you can fit your motorcycle in.

    I don’t buy that sales are declining because the boomers want something more comfortable (long-wheelbase, decent ride, easy to get into? basically the recipe for a comfortable car for an older person), I’d wager that it’s all down to the minivan stigma, combined with the growing number of CUVs, which do mostly the same thing, but look more irrational.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    windswords – I couldn’t remember the sequence of events as to when those guys left Ford and went to Chrysler. It’s been years since I read the biographies of Iacocca and Ford II where that stuff was detailed. I just remembered that Sperlich was the instigator of a minivan at Ford (and I think it was based on a Euro FWD platform, too, maybe the Fiesta). Iacocca agreed with Sperlich, but since Ford II had an irrational hatred of both Sperlich and Iacocca, he nixed it and that was that.

    Likewise, as stated, Sperlich’s eventual ouster from Ford (and apparent movement to Chrysler) was a forshadowing of what would eventually happen to Iacocca, as well.

    Sperlich’s idea of a minivan wasn’t technically the first, but unwavering support resulted in the production and subsequent phenomenal sales success at Chrysler is rather like that of John Z. DeLorean and the Pontiac GTO, which technically wasn’t the first musclecar, either.

    Although not the first, both were the first truly successful, marketable versions of their respective ideas and, for that, Sperlich (and, by default, Iacocca) deserve a great deal of recognition.

    Ironically, it may be Ford that indirectly put the final nail in the coffin for a minivan of the size and dimensions closest to the original 1984 Chrysler classic. The last two minivans that were closest to the original are the short wheelbase Caravan and Mazda MPV. While the modern short wheelbase Caravan had myriad drawbacks when compared to the more modern offerings from Honda and Toyota, the Mazda MPV was actually a relatively well-packaged, efficient vehicle, save for one thing – power. Had Ford allowed Mazda to use the better suited 3.0L V6 in the 2000 MPV (instead of the 2.5L V6) when it was introduced in 1999, it might have had half a chance in the marketplace. By the time the MPV got the 3.0L (2002), the damage had been done and it was too late.

    It’s too bad because the final MPV was really the ultimate evolution of the 1984 Chrysler minivan but the market has now changed. Most people in the market for a minivan of the original 1984 dimensions now buy an SUV, instead.

  • avatar
    Steven T.

    jthorner: “Volvo should have built it 10 years ago instead of wasting resources on the ill conceived C70 coupe and convertible. Why none of the premium brands ever introduced a top-shelf minivan is a mystery to me. It would be a perfect vehicle for Volvo’s traditional family image.”

    Excellent point. Instead of vainly trying to break into an already crowded coupe/convertible market, Volvo could have carved out a new niche that fit with the brand’s historic reputation for boxy but efficient cars.

  • avatar
    ash78

    If Honda can easily sell the Element and Toyota can sell the Scion xB, then that simply tells me that MARKETING is the only missing piece of the puzzle in minivan sales.

    GM, of all companies, actually realized this and decided to add SUV cues–but we all saw how that turned out (#1 on TWAT awards). But their fundamental design was crap to begin with. You can’t polish a turd.

    I love the minivan–not for myself, mind you (not yet…no kids)–because it is the best use of space and weight for a given platform. I dare say that where I live, the Odyssey is “borderline cool” among cars, but people still flock to SUVs because it’s clear that’s where the marketing and design efforts are going. There’s variety in the segment, while minivans are all basically the same. At least Nissan took a chance and created the hideously ugly (IMHO) new Quest. I hope more manufacturers decide to inject a little pizzazz into the segment, because there’s a lot more to be had there. If manufacturers can somehow sell “sport” versions of SUVs that are heavier than minivans AND taller, then there’s hope for the segment yet. Where’s the variety?! I’m talking about the vans that people actually WANT to put rims and suspensions on, where people actually WANT to pimp out the interiors with loud stereos and LCD screens (and beds, and mirrored ceilings…).

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    Robert Schwartz wrote: “One major issue is that there are no truly mini vans on the market anymore. The 86 was 176″L,72″W and Weighed less than 3200 lbs. The new ones are 200″L, 79″W and weigh a half-ton more. The bottom level Dodge is a foot shorter and a bit lighter, but there are no compact size vans on the market”

    I’ve often said the same – “what is so ‘mini’ about these so-called ‘mini-vans’ any more?!”

    This is why the Mazda 5, Kia Rondo etc. have come in. I wrote to Hyundai and extolled them to bring in their earlier Trajet minivan (it could be had with 4 cylinder, diesel 4 cylinder and 2.7 V6 in the rest of the world, even a CNG version) but the ignored me / eventually brought in a badge-engineered version of the Kia Sedona (the Hyundai Entourage).

    I understand from the Hyundai dealer that these are not selling very well, but the Kia dealer in town is selling them like proverbial hot-cakes.

    Hyundai should have listened to my idea. A niche market (a slightly smaller mini-van with up-market interior) would have been a better Hyundai than just another oversized ‘minivan’. Let their partner, Kia, cater to the larger, lower priced versions.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Kia had a first gen Sedona, probably what helps sales over its Entourage badge-twin. Kia will be bringing a short wheelbase version over soon, without the fold-in-the-floor 3rd row. Don’t know if the engine will be smaller, but that makes sense as the price tag will.

    Overseas variants can hold 11 small people, via use of jump seats and a very small 4th row.

  • avatar
    SuperAROD

    I have every confidence that with the 08 minivans, DCX will remain the segment leader for several years to come. The rear of the vehicle reminds of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is a great looking vehicle from the rear. Add all the improvements that will accompany the new look and add the Chrysler heritage and you have segment leader.

    All I will say in criticism to DCX is to not wait 7 years next time for a refresh. 3-4 years is long enough in today’s environment, much less 7

  • avatar
    windswords

    ash78:
    “If manufacturers can somehow sell “sport” versions of SUVs that are heavier than minivans AND taller, then there’s hope for the segment yet.”

    I owned one minivan in my life, a 94 Dodge Grand Caravan SE Sport Wagon (great title, huh?). The Sport Wagon was a trim level as opposed to an actual model designation like SE. The Sport Wagon package gave you a body colored grill, fog lights, gray plastic lower body cladding (ala Pontiac), larger cast aluminum wheels shod with Eagle GA’s. There was no difference in the power train from other variants. I don’t know if there was a difference in the suspension, but I would guess there was. As far as minivans go this one looked a lot better than most, I dare say sporty. Performance was actually pretty good. I never had trouble keeping up with traffic or passing.

    Glenn A.:
    I’ve often said the same – “what is so ‘mini’ about these so-called ‘mini-vans’ any more?!”

    Does anyone remember the Dodge and Plymouth Colt Vista? I always thought of them as a “mini” Minivan.

  • avatar
    Terry

    “Does anyone remember the Dodge and Plymouth Colt Vista? I always thought of them as a “mini” Minivan.”

    Yes, I remember them, along with the Mitsubishi Expo LRV minivan. Not bad vehicles at all, people with small families really liked them.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Don’t forget the first-gen Honda Odyssey. All of those in that class were from the rest of the world and proved a wee bit too small for most American tastes and needs. We’ve come full circle with cars like the Mazda5, I like where it’s going. Better product diversity benefits everyone (except for the manufacturers that can’t do it profitably).

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Super AROD: “not to wait seven years for a useful refresh”

    The current gen 2 DXC mini-vans came out in 1995 as 96 models. It will have been 12 years.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    The current-gen DCX minivan actually came out in 2000 as a 2001 model, but looks awfully similar to the prior gen 1995-2000. There were some structural changes for better crash scores a year or two after intro, and Stow N Go last year.

  • avatar

    A Volvo minivan. How much of a no-brainer is that? Meanwhile, VW is stealing their safety rep.

  • avatar

    I mentioned this in an email to Mr. Farago (for future Deathwatching), but I’ll put it here, too.

    Several local dealerships in my area (Central Ohio), are trying to get rid of Town and Countries and Dodge Rams and Durangos like they’re going to nuke the lot in 10 minutes, including incentives like $7,500-12,000 on the hood. I can’t think of a better example of current generation’s vulnerability.

    (The other vehicle they’re begging you to drive off the lot? Why, the Jeep Commander. $10,000 off MSRP there, too. Funny, that…)

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    starlightmica: I don’t consider the 2000 “refresh” a new generation. It was essentially the same vehicle, just like gen 1 went from 1984 through 1995. DXC has a bad habit of stretching things out too long.

    I remember reading several times a few years ago about Volvo seriously considering a mini-van. They decided to put their eggs in the SUV/CUV basket.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Paul,

    Since the DCX (and most other) minvans are based off the midsize/compact car platform the current generation was replaced when the current Stratus/Sebring was introduced. I have owned the original 1st gen Stratus (1995-2000) and have rented the curent gen (2001-2006) and can tell you for cetain that one is not a refresh of the other. The same goes for the minvans. The new minivan always appears about 1 model year after the car is redone. So the new Sebring/Avenger is about to come and look, there’s spy shots of the new gen minivan. The current minivan came out in 2001 based on the RS platform. The previous gerneration was 1996-2000 based on the NS platform (Motor Trend’s COTY for 1996 and Car & Drivers 10 best for 96 and 97). The new minvan platform will be designated RT.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    ash78: “Don’t forget the first-gen Honda Odyssey. All of those in that class were from the rest of the world and proved a wee bit too small for most American tastes and needs. We’ve come full circle with cars like the Mazda5, I like where it’s going.”

    The important difference between sales flops like the first generation Odyssey, MPV, Chrysler Vista/Mitsu LRV and the just released Mazda5 is that all of the former vehicles had normal rear doors, where the Mazda5 has sliding rear doors.

    It will be interesting to see how the 5 does in comparison to the previous smaller minivan attempts.

  • avatar

    Since my father has owned DCX minivans since pretty much the beginning (he’s on his 5th right now and owes his life to #4) I’ve become pretty intimately aquainted with them. The current generation is by far the best.
    Someone near the top of the comments said that they had owned a 2002 DCX van and didn’t much like it – interestingly my dad also owned a 2002 and has subsequently found out that at least one guy on the line at Chrysler’s Windsor plant considered it to be one of the worst years for the van. Apparently the 2002 was the heaviest of any of the model years and hence the worst perfomer. My dad now has an ’06 and I have to say it is much better to drive. The Stow’n’go (which is apparently much lighter?) has made the van much more easy to use (though I wish the auto doors would close more quickly).

    As for the general trends on the minivan I think that they will always exist in some form or another. Personally I would be interested to see how the Ford S-Max would do over here, after seeing it on Top Gear it looks like it could be alright. Then again, I prefer smaller cars so I’m particularly well placed to comment on the merits of minivans.

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