Vellum Venom: 2012 Volkswagen Routan

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom 2012 volkswagen routan

One thing I heard over and over in the Transportation Design biz is how the real world of car design is nothing like what you learn in school. It’s probably the same for any Industrial Designer or anyone in the creative arts, but to a lesser extent. We are passionate about cars. To wit: my former CCS classmate Mike Chan is taking his education and automotive (okay, motorcycle) design experience to launch his own design: the Chrono Case. Do me a solid and check out the man’s hard work, and maybe consider participating in the Indiegogo funding thing. Why?

Because we all need to save designers from creating design nightmares such as the VW Routan. The weatherstripping is reason enough to become a design entrepreneur à la Mike Chan. From one CCS person to another, best of luck to you, Mike.

Why not put a VW front end on a Chrysler minivan? My time at CCS tells me it can happen, but why it must never! My MBA understands why the beast was born. From here, quite honestly, the unique sheet metal isn’t the least bit offensive. While VW’s rounded design language fights the boxy chassis of a proper van, there’s enough tumblehome to match the hood bulge and flared bumper elements. And without a front license plate, the deep chin and thrusting nose is somewhat appealing.

And while Brooke Shields’ presence made the VW of minivans far more appealing for most suburban men, the Routan is actually quite beautiful from this angle. Try to disagree with me, you cannot!

Still quite a looker, but the obvious BMW E60 5-series homage in the lighting pods is a bit much for me. Then again, these look better than the originals, adding far more refinement to each hunk of plastic than Bangle’s baby.

A premium German Chrysler Minivan with no fog lights? Oops.

Wait…a premium German Chrysler Minivan with a whip antenna? Actually that’s not the problem, I got beef with the execution: the need for a large negative area to fit the aerial is proof that this design was a quick and dirty affair. If we still must use whip antennas, let’s just slap them right on the fender like an old school Ford Aerostar.

And why is there a fake crease near that antenna? Honestly, I have no clue.

Oh boy, that’s a big hunk of DLO fail. Let’s go back again to the Ford Aerostar for the correct answer: a hunk of glass in lieu of the black plastic triangle with chrome trimmings. Then again, why can’t all vans be like the concept and (original) production Pontiac Trans Sport? Was being that modern, that radical really so bad? That design needed refinement, not abandonment.

Not much to see here, this is just a regular van. Except for the well-integrated rail for the sliding door: putting this unattractive element at the base of the greenhouse with the rear glass does a fantastic job in cleaning up the package. Chrysler pioneered the minivan’s rail integration back in 1996, and everyone followed suit shortly after. So maybe that’s why VW wanted one for themselves?

I wish the door handle’s cut lines were as blocky as the rest of the van, but that’s a minor nit to pick. The uninterrupted, door track free, quarter panel is much appreciated. More to the point: shove it, Honda Odyssey.

The plastic trim overlap on the C-pillar looks horrible. The majority of vehicles have uninterrupted top window frames/rails for a reason. This looks counter-intuitive and downright cheap.

Another element of the 1996 Chrysler minivans (among others of the era) that I truly adored was the smooth transition from bumper to tailgate. The Routan seemingly has a worse bumper-tailgate motion than its Caravan brother, even the now-extinct Chevy Venture and Ford Freestar were superior in this regard. Minivans were so much prettier 20 years ago! I never cared for flannel shirts and The Spice Girls, but now I do miss the 1990s.

Whoops, let’s step forward for a moment: these racks are impossibly low to the roof. I’m sure this helps aerodynamics, but good luck keeping the roof scratch-free when strapping down luggage to it. I’d like taller ones with a quick release feature…but I’m certain that’d never make production!

These taillights have the same circular theme of the VW Beetle analyzed before, but there’s less real estate to make them suitably spectacular. As such, they look half-hearted. Why fight the box? Either make Ford Aerostar style lights (eliminating the useless bit on the tailgate) or re-think the genre like the original Trans Sport.

I’m not a Chrysler, I’m a gen-u-wine Vee-dub! Can’t you see it in my eyes and my big chrome nose, son? No amount of Vaseline on the lens can fix this.

Note how weak-kneed this lense’s contouring is…compared to the new Beetle. It’s further proof that some brands can’t extend themselves very far from their core offerings.

Let’s end on a high note! The CHMSL (third brake light) is a rather slick affair. I like how it’s integrated into the rear spoiler, forming a hard but clean negative area. The black sensor thing in the negative area is somewhat well done: I doubt there’s a better place for it on a normal production van, but a flush mount woulda been pretty trick.

And with that, thanks for reading and have a great week!

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2 of 19 comments
  • Olddavid Olddavid on Jun 24, 2012

    As the owner of a German car, the over-riding sense I get from their engineering philosophy is that they're perpetually asking questions no one needs the answer to.

  • Acuraandy Acuraandy on Jul 10, 2012

    When I sat in one of these at the Minneapolis Auto Show, I laughed out loud upon looking at the build sticker on the b-pillar that said- 'Built in USA by Chrysler LLC'. The auto show models looked at me kind of wierd. Get rid of this monstrosity and bring over the Amarok, Vee-DUB...!

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.