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New minivans: end of ’14

New minivans, described by Sergio Marchionne as having a completely new suspension architecture, are due for the 2015 model year; statements from the Chrysler CEO indicate that it will appear as either a Chrysler or a Dodge, with the other brand having a crossover based on the van. At this time, it appears that Chrysler will be the sole minivan brand, at least in the United States; in Canada it could be Dodge, since the Caravan has traditionally been a top seller in Canada, but it’s more likely that it will be Chrysler in both nations.

Earlier, we were told that Windsor Assembly would shut down  between the old and new minivans, and we can confirm that it is scheduled to shut for three full months at the end of summer 2014, after which 2015 minivan production will start. The company appears to be planning to run a high volume of minivans through, to keep dealers occupied while they wait for the new models, a strategy that nearly worked with the Liberty (where heavy discounting was used to take excess inventory off the lots, until there was nothing left to sell and the new Cherokee was still unavailable.)  Employees are reportedly being asked to reserve Saturdays for months in advance of the shutdown.

Chrysler’s minivan quandary is that by withdrawing one brand or the other, they risk losing sales; but by keeping both, they neatly divide the sales between brands so that Honda or Toyota will be the top seller.  In June, Honda and Toyota both beat Chrysler and Dodge, though if Chrysler and Dodge are combined, they easily hit the #1 spot. Likewise, if they keep both brands, it diffuses the Dodge brand, which is still aiming for sportiness, and may be focusing on the traditional American target of “muscle equals torque, preferably in the rear wheels.” A minivan-based Dodge Caravan crossover might be seen as more manly; though it wouldn’t fit in perfectly, regardless of styling, it would still be more compatible with what we believe will be Dodge’s future focus.

Years ago, there was talk of a lifestyle pickup based on the minivan platform, but this seems like an increasingly remote possibility, given sales of similar vehicles from other makers and the capacity of the sole remaining minivan plant. It is possible that the pickup was floated as a way to use extra capacity of minivan sales fell more quickly.

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