The 2017 Chrysler Town & Country and/or Dodge Caravan Minivans
For the first time in many years, Chrysler will completely re-create its minivans.
The new people-haulers will have independent front and rear suspensions, a hybrid option, and all wheel drive, which was dropped from Mopar minivans long ago. This will all be made easier by a new platform, which one reliable source claims is going to be based on CUSW — like a longer, wider Cherokee. It will use the same V6 engine family and transmission as Cherokee and 200, with some rumors of a turbocharger four-cylinder as the base powerplant; development savings will come from using a similar front end setup (e.g. the same core dimensions, other than body width, from the gas pedal forward).
Current information has a factory refit taking place in early 2015, to allow pilots of the new vans to be built later in the year. The actual production minivans are not expected to show up until January 2016, labelled 2017 Chrysler Town & Country.
2017 will likely mark the first minivan use of nine-speed automatic transmissions in the industry. For those wanting to save even more fuel, these will be Chrysler’s first new hybrid vehicles, with a plug-in version most likely sold in calendar-year 2016. Fuel economy will be aided by a switch from the current 3.6 liter engines to an upgraded version of the low-friction, high-efficiency 3.2 currently in Cherokees.
Major suspension changes will be matched to major brand changes: the new minivan will be the Chrysler Town & Country, the newest of Chrysler’s three minivans being the final survivor. The current “RT” Dodge Caravan will stay in production for some time, alongside the new “RU” Chrysler, before the name is moved to a full-size, minivan-based crossover.
Speaking of major suspension changes... the Dodge Durango setup is likely to be carried over to the minivans, according to one source, who said that the parts would be different but the overall architecture would be similar.
Why drop the Dodge and keep the Chrysler? First, in the US, roughly 2/3 of Dodge sales go to fleets, while roughly 2/3 of Chrysler Town & Country sales are retail. This is likely due to the pricing difference (the base models are Dodges, the expensive ones are Chryslers), so the main issue is probably branding. Dodge is moving to muscle/sport/performance, while Chrysler is, as it has been for some time, a somewhat more upscale-looking replacement for Plymouth. The minivan doesn’t fit with the new Dodge mission, and will be moved to Chrysler — despite a couple of years when the Chrysler should easily outperform the Dodge.
Chrysler could keep both as minivans, the Dodge could have a highly sport-tuned suspension, powertrain, and appearance package, aiming for niche sales only (Canadians would continue to get a full range of Dodges.) The company could then bias the Chrysler towards comfort rather than cornering, which was Chrysler Corporation’s setup until 2008. This is the path not followed.
It now appears, based on the 2014 Five Year Plan, that Chrysler will get a crossover based on the minivan (as they did with the Pacifica), while Dodge does not get anything from the platform. We expect its body code to start with the same “R” code, but “RV” is too much to ask. “RA,” for R-Alternate, or “RC,” for R-Crossover, would sound right. While there were some rumors of Durango and Grand Cherokee moving over to the same platform, that seems unlikely. Indeed, it’s possible that there might not even be a Chrysler crossover, given competition with Durango, Wagoneer, and Grand Cherokee.
Europeans may continue to get a range of Voyagers... badged as Chryslers or Fiats (likely the latter, as Journey sells under the Freemont badge).
The spare tire had to be moved inside, under a panel, to fit the new rear suspension — which should save money on the existing spare-lowering-and-dragging-out setup, which tends to freeze up if left unlubricated for a decade.
When will we see it?
Allpar’s sources claim that the plant will shut down near the end of the year, and stay closed for months, preparing to make the new independent-suspension, AWD-capable minivans and full-size crossovers. Two Januaries ago, Sergio Marchionne said we could expect production around January 2015, but last year, Mr. Marchionne said we could expect production around January 2016. In October 2014, insiders confirmed that the refit of January-March 2015 (now changed to February-May 2015) will take place to allow production of the “RU” minivans, but that the plant will only pilot them in mid-2016 (around July). We had written, “It’s possible that the renovation of the Windsor plant is required to produce new-minivan pilots, so that the plant must be refitted long before any prototypes are made.”
New sliding doors?
A new patent, brought to our attention by Steven St. Laurent, may show the next minivan’s revised sliding-door system. From the outside, the main difference is the appearance of a short length of visible track; Chrysler and Toyota hide their middle tracks, Honda and Kia do not. The design still has three tracks for support.
This new setup would allow for sliding doors to be used with fashionable plunging rooflines, which could allow the Dodge Caravan to be a minivan with “crossover-like” looks, while the Chrysler Town & Country could continue with the traditional minivan shape and doors. This might explain Sergio Marchionne’s statements at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show. (It now seems likely that Dodge will not get a crossover based on the minivan, but might retain the Durango.)
Sliding doors have usually been restricted to vans and minivans, which have flat sides, but the new design can be used for crossovers, sedans, and pickup trucks as well. The drawing bears some resemblance to the Chrysler 700 concept, but “the ‘funky’ rear C-pillar window was changed to a normal design.” (It may also simply be a new design for the Ram Mega Cab.)
Reliable source oh2o added that the new sliding doors will have a foot activated opening system (like Ford’s “kick-activated” liftgate). It’s even possible that both liftgate and both doors will be “kick opened.”
The main difference between the patent drawing and the 700C concept is that the 700C side glass is no longer on the drawing, but is in line with the door edges and rear flow design. Mr. St. Laurent wrote, “I believe the side glass was a ruse to get overall design shape and interior design feedback.”
New Stow ’n’ Go seats?
One of the Chrysler minivans’ continuing advantages (since the 2005s) is the “Stow ’n’ Go” seating system, which lets owners fold their seats into the floor, providing a flat load floor from the front seats back to the gate.
Steven St. Laurent pointed out that Chrysler applied for a patent on a revised Stow ’n’ Go system. The middle seats fold first and then move into the floor, so the front seats may not need to be pushed forward; and part of the floor panel (when stowed) is fixed to the seat back, simplifying stowage and reducing the parts count. Full patent.
Another patent (8,632,113 B2) shows that Chrysler may make eight-seat minivans — likely only with front wheel drive versions, since all wheel drive will require driveshaft space down the middle. In this case, the middle seat can be folded down into its own compartment, independently of the other two; most of the time, the vans would likely run in seven-passenger mode (to allow access to the rear), but the third seat of the middle row could be brought out as needed. (Thanks, Steven St. Laurent.)
At first, the patent also appeared to describe seats that swivel around to face either front or back, as used on the 2008 minivans. However, it appears on closer inspection that these would be used to “provide quick access” to the rear “by rotating or pivoting an outboard seat forward without having to collapse and/or tumble the seat.” This, the seat assembly can be rotated forward about pivot points; it could be moved from inside or outside, and easily returned and re-latched, albeit at the cost of having the blueprint look like a robot warrior from Star Wars.
Words from CEO Sergio Marchionne
In January 2013:
I think that we have done all the work that needed to be done to make sure we had the right architecture for the minivan. ... we’re now in the process of finalizing style choices for the minivan. In an ideal world, if we could get all our ducks lined up, we could start as early as 2013 to start industrializing the plant.
The launch won’t happen until sometime at the end of ’14 or the beginning of ’15. ... But the architecture exists, which is not an inconsequential choice because that architecture inside the minivan today is probably one of the oldest we have within the family and so it needed to be substantially upgraded. We have done all that work from the engineering standpoint; we understand fully what it needs to do. ... It will do all that and more including ultimately offer all-wheel drive capabilities. Full text.
in January 2014:
The first vehicle out is a Chrysler. What comes out as a Dodge is not something that I’m willing to answer right now. Full text.