By on March 23, 2015

2009 Volkswagen RoutanTTAC’s managing editor, Derek Kreindler, used an interesting phrase last Friday. “Well, this ought to erase memories of the Routan,” Derek wrote.

Memories? Of the Routan?

Who has memories of the Volkswagen Routan?

Hardly anyone, that’s who. Because even by the standards of minivan flops – and there’ve been more than a couple – the Routan’s failure to capture market share ranks up near the top with the Hyundai Entourage and Buick Terraza. That’s right: two Rs, one Z, Terraza. Like a terrace. Like a terrace you almost jumped off after first spotting one in the wild.

In its best year on sale in the United States, Volkswagen reported 15,961 Routan sales, a 9% year-over-year increase compared with 2009 that preceded four consecutive years of decline. All-time, between the latter part of 2008 and the early part of 2014, VW USA reported barely more than 60,000 Routan sales; 60,197 to be precise.

Between 2008 and 2014, the same vans from Chrysler and Dodge generated 1.61 million U.S. sales.

chrysler van sales chartOf course, the Town & Country and Grand Caravan were more readily available. But why wouldn’t they be? Consumers could visit their local Chrysler or Dodge dealer and spend less on the same product. Those are the vans people will want, not the Volkswagen, so the plant didn’t spent nearly as much time slapping VW badges on grilles as they did Chrysler and Dodge logos. Turns out, minivan buyers didn’t want to appear as though they fell like Andre Agassi for Brooke Shields’ tricks. German engineering, Brooke? In the words of TTAC’s founder, Robert Farago, “Well, some German engineering. Done in America. Presumably by Americans.”

And then, I might add, put into practice by Canadian auto workers in Windsor, Ontario.

But rather than rehash the fact that 2007, the Hyundai Entourage’s best year, was kinder to the Hyundai than the Routan’s best year (2010) was to the Volkswagen, or the fact that Buick sold 4327 more Terraces in its best year, 2005, than the Routan did in its best year, let’s just applaud Volkswagen USA for even considering the importing of a genuine Volkswagen van. They’ve had some success doing so in the past, you may recall.

They’ve also shown us some stunning concepts, including the Microbus and the Bulli.

Sure, the minivan segment is stagnant, but the fast-growing commercial van market can be thoroughly explored. No, we’re not product planners – although with a toddler and a big dog I may wish I was a minivan product planner – but we do recognize that Volkswagen USA may need to expand its portfolio if any kind of success is to be met in the coming years.

http---o.aolcdn.com-hss-storage-midas-e5d1c9474f6c099abe418721a512d550-201718780-VW-T6-TeaserYou can quite rightly argue that niche products like the disallowed Scirocco and Polo GTI are nothing more than low-hanging fruit for malcontent North American VW enthusiasts, vehicles which lack the possibility of adding measurable long-term benefit to the product range. But at what point does Volkswagen consider the possibility that the automaker is harming the brand’s own image with their own fans by keeping products away from North America, thus hampering the success of products that are actually sold here?

Surely a return to the brand’s illustrious van heritage would do the brand favours. While also erasing memories of the Routan, even if only a handful of people actually possess Routan-centric memories.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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36 Comments on “A New VW Van? We’re Trying To Remember The Flop That Was The Volkswagen Routan...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    There is one family at my elementary school that has a Routan – but in my area given the high poverty levels and price consciousness of consumers, I assume they got a screaming deal.

    I know of two Terraza’s in Gallup. One owned by an Episcopalian Minister and the other that the desperate Buick dealer sold to the local detention center for prisoner transport.

  • avatar

    My girlfriend remembers the Routan because everytime Brooke Shields popped up on the TV, I would start yelling about “German Engineering”.

  • avatar

    I spoke to five people who were in the market for a minivan while the Routan was available, and who were aware of its existence. They *all* basically said the same thing: they knew it was a Chrysler, and they would have felt like snobs driving it. They felt that it projected the image that they were too good to buy a Chrysler, but that they were okay with buying the same product if it had a German badge on it. Three of them *did* end up buying the Town and Country, one of them bought a Sienna, and the last one bought a pre-owned R-Class (good luck with that one)…

    The only good thing about the Routan was that—being a Chrysler—it didn’t subject you to the annual “surprise” that most of us Volkswagen owners are familiar with.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Another good thing about the Routan is that it’s covered by VW’s corrosion warranty. My brother owns a Routan and got some panels repainted for free as a result. Maybe he’ll chime in at some point about his. I also know that taking a Routan to a Chrysler dealer can be cheaper than asking a VW dealer to do the same job (like brakes).

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I had a ride in a Routan that was used as a customer shuttle by my local VW dealer. It was a fine people hauler but seemed to have no reason for being. The aforementioned comparison to Chrysler vans for less money and more welcoming dealers was apt.

    At the time I kept thinking that the only way to justify its existence would be for the dealer to have it converted with a pop-top and a Westfalia badge. The roomy and square-edged design of that van seems as if it would have lent itself well to camper duty. Otherwise, just buy a Chrysler as it seems everyone who wanted one did.

    Frankly, I’m more blown away by General Motors’ unwillingness to ever seriously try to compete in the minivan market. That seems like a much bigger embarrassment. My one time DRIVING a old dust-buster Olds Silhouette left me car sick and shaking my head at its complete lack of function. The next generation was also a sort of “phone it in” half-assed attempt years behind the competition (low uncomfortable seats, only one sliding door when everyone else had moved to two, etc.).

    At least VW started with a competent minivan. It just had no fit at all with their brand.

    • 0 avatar

      It had one reason for being – to give VW dealers a minivan. Dealers like having a full lineup, on the off chance that someone wanders in not looking at anything in particular, or is cross-shopping, say, a Toureg or Jetta wagon with a minivan – they can go “hey, we have a minivan too!”.

      On the off chance that I ever found myself in the market for a new minivan, I would totally look for a used Routan, just for the novelty factor, as long as the price war right.

    • 0 avatar

      It seems like GM did try with those original dustbuster-shaped U-bodies, although people were let down because a lot of the cool features from the concepts didn’t make it to production and the repair/maintenance costs were high. But those last two generations were absolutely phoned-in, and people knew it, especially when they resorted to releasing goofy variants like the “Warner Bros. Edition” Venture by the late nineties. Really, the Lambda crossovers (Acadia, Enclave, Traverse) are quite close to minivans, and they have proven to be quite competitive—although not necessarily the most modern, since they didn’t benefit from GM’s “Global A” electronics architecture upon their 2013 refresh—and profitable.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        Some companies here in Australia imported Econolines as a basis for Motorhomes as they were cheap . That fad lasted 5mins. So different markets react in different ways

    • 0 avatar

      I worked for a few months at a Chevy dealer that used an Uplander as a shuttle vehicle. What an appalling pile of crap. The interior was a symphonic tribute to disconnected, built-to-a-price-point management styles typical of GM in the years leading up to the bankruptcy and the outside was godawful ugly, a fact that was compounded by the fact it was decked out in the tackiest vinyls known to man. I hated driving that thing because it rode like crap, had no power, got terrible mileage, wasn’t roomy or comfortable and had many problems management refused to fix. All they ever did to that car was change the oil. Nothing else.

      I drove by the dealer a few weeks ago and that pile is STILL being used as their one and only shuttle. GM came in and made them upgrade to the new corporate look for the building. I’m staggered nobody noticed that beige turd sitting in the drive, leaking oil and refusing to start.

  • avatar
    John R

    I remember…laughing at every one I saw. Should have called it the VW PT Barnum.

  • avatar
    Astigmatism

    Ugh. I have a friend with two young kids who wants one of these. To give you an idea of the target buyer, she (i) thinks it’s “cute,” (ii) had no idea that it wasn’t being made any more, and (iii) said “No way I’d never buy a Chrysler” when I told her that she could get the exact same car for less money at her local Chrysler dealership.

    Now that the Routan is kaput, I think she’s targeting the Odyssey.

  • avatar
    scott25

    I can’t believe the Routan was that big of a flop based on how many I see on the road still. I guess canada has always been a lot more fond of VW than the US though. I think I might have seen one or two Entourages and Terrazas in my entire life. I definitely see more Routans than Quests, Flexes, and Sedonas and they’re almost on par with Odysseys it seems in terms of abundance.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow. I’d definitely say Canada was more fond of VW than we were. The Routan is almost as rare as hens’ teeth here…although so are the Terraza and Entourage.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      The Routan’s U.S. marketshare between 2009 and 2012 in the minivan category was 2.7%. In Canada, during the same period, it was 1%. VW Canada sold 4413 Routans all time. Honda sold more than twice that many Odysseys in Canada just last year.

  • avatar
    Fenian

    My wife drives a 2009 Routan SEL that we picked up as a CPO. It went for less than similar Town and Country models were going for, not to mention the warranty on top of it.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    Honestly, what could have been the highest predicted sales for the Routan at VW during its ‘development’? Surely they knew like everyone else it was going nowhere, after all everyone else did.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      I don’t remember the prediction but it was a LOT higher than they actually sold. For the volume that they actually ended up doing, even the minimal “German engineering” that they did would not have paid. They actually did a fair amount of work in restyling the nose (turning it into a pretty convincing facsimile of a VW front fascia), the dash, the seats, the wheels, etc. and supposedly they even picked thru the Chrysler parts bin a little to set up the suspension a little more to their liking (though that part must have cost them almost nothing – I think the “sport” package on my last Chrysler, consisting of slightly stiffer shocks, was like a $50 option).

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    Routans were more expensive than the Chryslers except when they weren’t. VW put all sorts of cash on the hood when I got mine in 2009 (I forget how much off the top of my head but it was significant). IIRC, the van had been produced almost a year before I bought it so they were not exactly flying off the lots. The VW dealers didn’t really know how to sell it (or service it). It lacks the stow n go seats but instead the middle row seats are very comfortable and you get a storage compartment under the floor. Carrying them in and out of my garage (they have rollers) is not my favorite job but I don’t need to do it that often and the more comfortable seats the rest of the time are a fair tradeoff.

    Some of the interior pieces are somewhat different (nicer) than the Chrysler, the mechanicals are identical. The brakes are better than on my previous generation Chrysler van but they still suck (although they suck less now that I have got them sorted by an independent instead of the VW dealer).

    If Chrysler/Dodge sold so many of these and VW sold so few and they were basically the same vehicle (and they were) then obviously the problem was not in the vehicle itself but in the price, the marketing, etc. This was really a controlled experiment – usually if vehicle A sells better than vehicle B, you can’t tell whether it’s the car itself or the price or the dealer organization or the marketing. In this case you could take the car itself (mostly) out of the equation, which is quite an indictment of VWA.

    In general, ever since they lost the original Beetle, VWA has struggled to “get” the American market. They sell in their niche but they have never been able to do the kind of volume that they would like to do and that they do in Europe. They try to make the cars more American and they alienate their niche fans but the mainstream buyers still don’t show up.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Stop reminding me that my grandparents still have a Terraza (which my grandfather purchased new, without a test drive, from the showroom – the fack?), and I have to drive/ride in it occasionally. I get seasick in there, but it’s okay because the interior panel gaps are large enough to vomit into.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The low Routan sales should have surprised no one. It was a Grand Caravan with a worse warranty.

    Anyone who did any amount of comparison would have found this out quickly. It seems that they did. The rest must not have bothered.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I wanted to believe. I really did.

      I drove a Ram Van for work a few months ago and was actually pleasantly surprised. The motor hauls the mail, and with better suspension bits and brakes it would actually be decent in the horizontal plane of motion. Interior was surprisingly decent too with a nice padded arm rest. Would I buy one? Come on. But it more than exceeded my extremely low expectations.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    I remember sitting in a Routan in the VW showroom while my friend shopped for a Jetta. Knowing it was a Chrysler, I was actually amazed at how nice the interior was. I’m guessing VW put some major $$ into differentiating the interior, to no avail. Sad really.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    An ATS is so much better than this.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    1. With the sport suspension, they handled better than the TC and GC. Interior was improved as well, although not “luxury” or even “near luxury”.
    2. Especially during the last year of offering, the Routan deals were immense. $10-14k worthy.
    3. Best looking of the 3, but YMMV.
    4. Stow N Go might be cool for some, but the seats are nowhere as comfortable as the non-SNG.

  • avatar
    TrenchFoot

    What surprised me most was how little effort VW put into hiding the van’s origins. There was one on the floor of my local dealer with it’s hood up. The emissions decals all blatantly said Chrysler Corp with the Pentastar logo.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      I think that is a Federal requirement.

      It was never a secret that the van was made by Chrysler. Chrysler is the originator of the modern minivan and still a major player so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. VW would not have done this if they thought they could have sold their own Eurovans in the US market but they aren’t configured in a way that the US market demands – e.g. 4 cylinder diesel engines.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    The primary reason I bought my 2005 Buick Terraza CXL was because our 2004 Oldsmobile Silhouette GLS was destroyed by a head-on collision with a lowlife and Oldsmobile as a manufacturer was gone. The Terraza replaced the Silhouette, just as my Rainier replaced the Bravada.
    Though these two models might not fare well in the production numbers they are still the only ones I would have.
    Driving in Minnesota in 2012 was a dream come true; not just the scenery and open highways but all the Buick Terrazas and Rainers we saw!

  • avatar
    blueflame6

    I grew up riding in VWs, and have owned several in the past, but VW’s apparent inability to have anything like a clue boggles my mind. Witness, for example, their homeopathic product line in the US; the fewer desirable products they decide to offer the more they expect to sell.

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    I actually see a few of these in intown Atlanta, apparently driven by the types like astigmatism said, who say it’s cute, and no way she’d buy a Chrysler. Intown yuppie moms who drink imported water and eat spelt and quinoa and such. I know we are car guys, or we wouldn’t be reading this, so we know about what the car is. There are things I purchase without giving much mind to what the innards are. Gimme about $300 worth of black dishwasher there, with manual controls. Yah, those are good shoes, they’re florsheims. Given VW did very little marketing of it, and given VW’s general sinking fortunes in the American market, how much can it have cost them to tweak a Caravan? I don’t think it was a terrible decision by VW to market it. Probably the most reliable VW branded thing since the Beetle.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    If VW were to make a competitive minivan styled retro like the original 60s VW Van, it would be a runaway hit.

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    My poor neighbor is a single mother with four kids and a Routan. She’s constantly driving around a VW dealer courtesy car. Doesn’t seem to be working for her that well…

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