As Plant Preps for Downtime, America's Grand Caravan Love Appears Unshakeable

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The only minivans coming out of Detroit these days aren’t actually rolling out of Detroit, but a plant a stone’s throw from the Detroit River, on the Canadian side. Fiat Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant, home to the Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan, will go dark for two weeks starting on New Year’s Eve, presumably to manage inventories.

Short-lived shutdowns are commonplace at the plant, where workers assemble one of the newest and undoubtedly the oldest minivans on the market. The latter vehicle, while likely not having much of a future, certainly has a fan base. It’s not giving up on the model, and sales figures show it.

Unifor Local 444, which represents the Windsor workers, announced the shutdown in a tweet Wednesday. The plant comes online again on January 14th. Neither FCA or the union has stated the specific reason for the idle period, though it’s happened twice in the past year.

Your author likes to joke that the Grand Caravan is the one thing in this world that’s immune to inflation. Certainly, its low base price compared to other minivans makes it an appealing buy for those looking for basic, but competent, family transportation. Fleet buyers clearly feel the same way.

Compared to the more modern, technologically advanced Pacifica, the Grand Caravan’s a dinosaur, but it’s proved its usefulness to FCA. So much so, the automaker saw fit to spare its life in 2017 — for an unknown amount of time. It was initially thought that 2019 might be the famous nameplate’s final year. Or, maybe 2020 will bring about the model’s death.

According to figures from the Automotive News Data Center, FCA ended November with a 29-day supply of Caravans and 91-day supply of Pacificas in the United States. That’s well below an optimum supply for the former model, well above for the latter. Canadian figures aren’t available.

In terms of sales, the Grand Caravan eclipses all other Dodge models, with 142,223 sold in the U.S. over the first 11 months of 2018. November sales rose 19 percent, year over year, and volume through the end of last month represents a 20 percent increase over the same period a year prior. If buyers give the model a healthy December, 2018’s sales tally might be the model’s best since before the recession.

In Canada, however, year-to-date sales have fallen 30 percent. While still popular, sales are significantly below the six-year period that came before (when the annual tally seesawed between 51,000 and 46,000 units with odd predictability). The Pacifica, on the other hand, is up both in the U.S. and Canada. Sales rose 2.1 percent, year to date, south of the border and 4.5 percent north of it.

Compared to the Grand Caravan, foreign rivals fared worse in 2018. Toyota’s Sienna saw volume fall 21.1 percent through the end of November, while the Kia Sedona fell 25.3 percent. The Honda Odyssey saw its sales rise 6 percent in 2018, though its volume, like that of the others, still pales next to that of the old Dodge.

The Grand Caravan also outsells its Pacifica factory mate, a vehicle that was meant to replace it. That’s still likely to happen, but, when it does, the Grand Caravan will at least be able to boast of going out on top.

[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Mike978 Mike978 on Dec 27, 2018

    I have a 2008 Toyota Sienna and I'm currently on vacation in Arizona. I am renting a 2018 Grand Caravan GT. I think it is a really good minivan. I have looked at one year old used models from Hertz and Enterprise. You can get models with 20000 miles between 18 to $20,000. The GT spec is very good with leather, all round electric doors (including trunk), useful navigation, stow and go seats and sun shades. Next great sense for a typical family. Only negatives are that it is a bit louder and not as smooth riding as I'd expect

  • PartyUpLive PartyUpLive on Jan 17, 2019

    I bought a 2015 Grand Caravan and I like it a lot. I didn't get the Pacifica because I never buy a new car in its first model year run. I also like the simpler design of the GC. My next preference for overall minivan exterior design is the Kia Sedona. I'll admit the Stow N Go seats are a big reason why I went with the GC. Plus, it had a proven track record in 2015 as opposed to the new Pacifica which was brand new. My main issue with the GC is the interior but I have added a few things to jazz it up. But I also don't like touch screens, especially touch screens that control too many of the more important controls of a car. Also I'm 6' 9" and driving the GC is very comfortable for me with a lot of room head and leg room.

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