There's still life in minivan market TheStar.com - Wheels - There's still life in minivan market
Chrysler the only car maker to unveil new one at show
January 13, 2007
General Motors will have you believe that the minivan market is fading fast, and that crossovers – such as its new Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia – will soon take their place.
To underscore its point, GM will halt production of its minivans in 2009, while Ford has pulled the plug on its Freestar and affiliate Mazda's MPV.
Yet Hyundai and Kia have recently launched all-new vans.
Nissan's 2007 Quest benefits from a major mid-cycle investment, and Honda and Toyota continue to spend to keep their vans fresh and competitive.
So who's right?
DaimlerChrysler, the originators of the minivan-as-we-know-it, can safely be considered part of the latter group.
Ann Fandozzi, a marketing director with Chrysler, reportedly has observed:
"Some of these comments (about crossovers replacing minivans) are coming from auto makers that haven't done well in the minivan market."
Even if the market is declining, vans still represent a huge number of sales.
That's especially so in Canada, where they are the third-largest segment, accounting for nearly 10 per cent of the market.
DaimlerChrysler's minivans made up about 37 per cent of those sales (or more than 62,000 units) in 2006.
Across the border, around 370,000 Dodge and Chrysler minivans found buyers.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the hauler's death have been greatly exaggerated.
DaimlerChrysler was the sole car maker to introduce a new minivan at this year's show. It may have met minimal fanfare, but that doesn't detract from the importance of these new vans to the company.
Their 2006 predecessors outsold the corporation's entire Dodge and Chrysler car lineups combined.
While the 2008 models are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, DCX claims they offer 35 new or improved features.
An unusual option is Swivel 'n Go, a seating system featuring second-row seats that rotate 180 degrees to face the rear seats.
A removable table and post that can sit in the centre, allowing on-the-go eating, gaming or simply conversation.
Unfortunately, the mid-row perches remove but don't stow, and the base of the table remains as a mid-floor protrusion.
You can also choose a solid bench, or stick with the practicality of the existing Stow 'n Go system, which is likely to be the most popular choice.
You'll get handy in-floor storage bins regardless.
With the demise of the short wheelbase (non-Grand) Caravan, the fold-into-the-floor third-row seats has become standard equipment, with powered operation a new option.
A current Chrysler minivan weak spot is the engine bay.
But there's hope: while you still won't be able to buy a Hemi-powered Dodge Grand Caravan R/T, a six-speed automatic transmission will be available for the first time.
The gearbox is paired either with the existing 3.8-litre V6 or a new 240-hp 4.0-litre V6 (from the Dodge Nitro SUV).
Base models carry over the 170-hp flex-fuel-capable 3.3-litre V6 with four-speed automatic.
Other notable assets include dual DVD video systems (with independent second- and third-row operation) and a 20 GB MyGIG navigation-entertainment system capable of storing 1,200 or more MP3 files.
And let's not forget the aircraft-style indirect interior lighting, second-row roll-down windows and a multi-position, reconfigurable centre console and 13 cupholders.
Chrysler's jelly-bean minivan shape is no longer.
What's old is new again, as the bolder, squared-off shape of the 2008 Grand Caravan recalls the first-generation Magic Wagon's chiselled profile, though with different proportions.
The upscale Town & Country's front-end styling deviates further from its Dodge sibling, incorporating Chrysler-brand design cues and offering HID headlamps for the first time.
The vans' expected on-sale date is fall 2007. Pricing has yet to be determined.
LINK: Toronto Star