Junkyard Find: 2009 Volkswagen Routan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Badge engineering! Always near the top of my search list when poking through car graveyards, obscure examples of marketing-inspired rebadgitude will jump right out from the ho-hum ranks of Elantras and LaCrosses in any yard. I haven’t managed to find a discarded Suzuki Equator yet, sad to say, but I have documented such rarities as a Mitsubishi-badged Hyundai Excel, an Isuzu-badged Chevy Colorado, and a Dodge-badged Renault 25. Today we’ll visit one of the most puzzling examples of badge-engineering history in the North American automotive marketplace: the Volkswagen Routan.

VW stopped selling the EuroVan here in 2003, which meant that Volkswagen of America had nothing van-like to offer shoppers while competitors raked in cash from their minivan sales. Just as Honda had been forced to turn to Isuzu in order to provide a luxury SUV in North America (even as Isuzu sold Honda minivans here), Volkswagen turned to another manufacturer in order to avoid spending billions developing a minivan from scratch. Yes, Canadian-built Chrysler minivans were given some minor modifications and sold as Routans… for way more money than a same-year Grand Caravan or Town & Country.

Minivan shoppers figured out the vehicle-per-buck disparity between the Routan and its Chrysler/Dodge siblings and so very few of them signed on the line which is dotted for the Routan. Total sales of Routans barely cracked 60,000 units, from the introduction in the 2009 model year through the Routan’s demise in 2014.

I’ve found a few Routans in wrecking yards in recent years, and most have been crash victims picked over hard by shoppers looking for running gear for members of the Chrysler minivan family. Just about any running minivan less than 15 years old can find someone willing to keep it on the street because these are useful machines, so I don’t expect to see clean/unwrecked Routans in U-Wrench-It yards for another couple of years.

Volkswagen did their best to add interior touches that reminded Routan owners of the old air-cooled Transporters, but the addition of a faux-metal dash covering didn’t compensate for the lack of the helpful Stow-n-Go seats found in Grand Caravans and Town & Countries.

Was it worth paying thousands more for a Grand Caravan with Volkswagen badging? Not many buyers thought so.

Just the van to have when you’re carrying live frogs on a family road trip.

They should have hired Sean Penn to do the Transporter’s voice in this ad.

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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Polka King Polka King on Jun 29, 2021

    I wonder whether I can get my Hyundai lifted. You know, to make it easier to get in and out? Oh, Bronco? It's probably easy to get in and out.

  • Taxman100 Taxman100 on Jul 02, 2021

    We bought a 2011 brand new. There was a Volkswagen dealership in NE Ohio that was selling them for $7.500 off of list price - An SE trim MSRP around $34,500 for $27,000. I knew it was a Chrysler, but I bought it because it has leatherette seating, 17 inch wheels, and a dual DVD video player, all which required buying a much more expensive Chrysler to avoid cloth seats and 16 inch wheels. It's had the typical issues of a 2011 Chrysler minivan - eats brakes, oddball starting issues from a transmission safety switch issue (if it doesn't start, move the shifter to neutral and start), etc. First year for the 3.6.

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.