The 2017 Chrysler Town & Country and/or Dodge Caravan Minivans
For the first time since 1996 (or, arguably, 2008), Chrysler will completely re-create its minivans.
The new people-movers will have independent suspensions, front and rear; a hybrid option; and optional all wheel drive, dropped from Mopar minivans long ago.
This will all be made easier by a new platform, allegedly based on CUSW — like a much longer, wider Cherokee (which is just 11 inches shorter but 5.5 inches narrower than the current Chrysler Town & Country). It reportedly will use the same 3.2 liter V6 engine and nine-speed transmission as Cherokee, with some rumors of a turbocharged four-cylinder as well, which makes engineering the front easier and faster, while allowing more parts sharing. The van’s overall height may be lower than current models, with height presumably coming both from ground clearance and the “underfloor” area; and some now say it will be wider, too, than the current van’s 79 inches.
The new minivan will be the “RU” Chrysler Town & Country, the newest of Chrysler’s three minivans being the final survivor. The Dodge Caravan name might be moved to a full-size, minivan-based crossover, though it seems now that any minivan-based crossover will be badged as a Chrysler, perhaps Voyager or Pacifica, and that the Dodge Durango will continue as a full size Dodge crossover or SUV.
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.
We believe there will be a factory refit in early 2015, to allow pilots builds of the new vans. Actual production vans are not expected to show up until January 2016, so the introduction, traditionally in Detroit, is more likely to be either in New York or between major shows.
2017 will mark the first minivan with a nine-speed automatic transmission in the industry. These will also be Chrysler’s first home-grown hybrids, with a plug-in hybrid version to be sold around two months after launch.
The current 3.2 liter engine is reportedly to be power-boosted before arriving in the minivan, perhaps to the power level of the current 3.6. The 3.2 is a lower-friction, higher-efficiency version of the 3.6. The nine-speed could even allow the current version to be faster and more responsive than the higher-torque 3.6. [Update: the 3.6 might remain. Given the van’s weight, the smaller engine may not pay off in fuel economy.]
The Dodge Durango suspension 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.
Based on the 2014 Five Year Plan, Chrysler, rather than Dodge, will get a crossover based on the minivan (as they did with the Pacifica). We expect the crossover’s 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. (See story below).
Europeans may continue to get a range of Voyagers... badged as Chryslers or Fiats (likely the latter, as Journey sells under the Freemont badge). However, this is by no means guaranteed, and Chrysler may simply withdraw from Europe, where sales have been getting worse.
The spare tire reportedly had to be moved inside, under a panel, to fit the new rear suspension — saving money on the existing spare-lowering-and-dragging-out setup, which tends to freeze up if left unlubricated for a decade.
Reliable source oh2o added that the sliding doors and possibly tailgate 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.”
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 large sliding doors with fashionable sloping rooflines, which could allow a minivan with “crossover-like” looks, while the Chrysler Town & Country could continue with the traditional minivan shape and doors (albeit with a sloping roof).
The new design can be used for sedans and pickup trucks as well. The patent 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 be a new design for the Ram Mega Cab.)
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.”
Dodge Caravan or Plymouth Voyager: the crossover version
The 2014 four-year plan clearly shows a Chrysler-badged crossover based on the next minivan, and insiders have been talking up the “RA” crossover, based on the “RU” minivan; but on January 12, 2015, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne cast some doubt on whether this was a certainty.
We’re working our way through the economics of that case right now. So the car is designed. We know what it looks like. We’re just trying to find out whether we can sell enough. But obviously it shares the architecture with the minivan. We’ll let you know as soon as we find out. We’re still busy trying to launch the minivan. Let’s not worry about a second car.
Originally, the crossover was to be a Dodge, likely badged Caravan, and sources claimed that the current “RT” Caravan would be made alongside the “RU” Town & Country until the crossover was ready for sale, to keep the name active. However, the Plan has a full size Chrysler crossover rather than a Dodge one, perhaps in keeping with Dodge’s muscle image and the apparent continuation of the Durango.
It appears now that the vehicle is ready, but may not be produced. The company might be keeping it “in its hip pocket” in case minivan sales don’t use all of the Windsor plant’s capacity; if the minivan sells so well that the plant is busy making just that one vehicle, it would be an expensive mistake to make the crossover there as well.
New Stow ’n’ Go seats?
One of the Chrysler minivans’ advantages (since 2005) is the “Stow ’n’ Go” system, which lets owners fold their seats into the floor, making a completely flat surface behind the front seats or providing large hidden storage bins.
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. The middle seat can be folded down into its own compartment; most of the time, the vans would probably 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 fast access to the rear “by rotating or pivoting an outboard seat forward without having to collapse and/or tumble the seat.” The seat assembly could be moved from inside or outside, and easily returned and re-latched, 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.