Minivans: All Roads Lead to Chrysler
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) recently announced that the Dodge Grand Caravan — the minivan that started it all — is slated to come to an end this coming May (2020). The Chrysler Pacifica and Voyager models will be responsible for filling the gap the Grand Caravan leaves behind, but looking back all roads have always led to Chrysler. Minivan sales roared from the 1980s onward, hitting their peak during the early 2000s. Since then, minivans overall have seen a decline in sales given the popularity of crossovers and SUVs, but that hasn’t stopped Chrysler from perfecting the segment it’s responsible for inventing. Here’s a look back at almost forty years of the minivan and where the future may take this segment.
By some accounts, automotive experts credit the Volkswagen Microbus — introduced in 1950 — as the original minivan, while others believe the initial minivan is a much older vehicle from the 1930s — the Stout Scarab. However, general consensus indicates that modern minivans launched in 1984, when Chrysler introduced the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager into the market. The boom that the vehicles created would last until the early 2000s. Lee Iacocca, the colorful automotive executive credited with bringing the Ford Mustang to life in the late 1960s, was responsible for bringing the minivan to life at Chrysler when he joined the company during the late 1970s.
Tasked with reviving a company from the throes of financial struggles, Lee Iacocca secured a $1.5 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. government and got to work. Iacocca knew he’d have to introduce something revolutionary to the automotive market if Chrysler was going to stay afloat, so he committed nearly half of the loan guarantee — $700 million — to the minivan project. A large part of those funds also went to outfitting the Chrysler plant in Windsor, Ontario, where the minivan would be produced and assembled.
The Caravan and Voyager models combined the family concept of station wagons with more traditional vans, making them strong challengers to both of these automotive segments. Chrysler worked hard to sell the new vehicles, with its ads describing them as “one vehicle that takes the place of an economy car, sporty car, station wagon, and van.” Lauded as a “transportation revolution,” it’s not hard to see why Chrysler had an immediate hit on its hands. Essentially, the minivan covered a lot of bases for consumers all at once, something that hadn’t really been done in the automotive segment. Chrysler sold an astonishing 209,000 minivans in the first model year.
Neither Ford nor GM sell a minivan today, and FCA’s main competition comes from foreign automakers. In 2019, FCA celebrated the 35th Anniversary of the minivan and its 15 millionth minivan sold. Although FCA has decided to phase the Grand Caravan from production, it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the road for all minivans. In fact, in 2019 alone, Chrysler remained king of the minivan segment as it sold 54% of all minivans sold in the U.S.
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Photo Source/Copyright: Chrysler