It has been years since Allpar first reported on the future launch of a new Jeep Wagoneer, and the dropping of the Dodge Caravan.
With Wagoneer on the books, Chrysler planners may have had mixed feelings about the sudden success of the Dodge Durango. They wanted to drop the Durango for a more-profitable Wagoneer (essentially a Durango with the Grand Cherokee suspension design and a higher price); but dropping Durango would annoy customers and pointlessly end a good nameplate. They can’t just keep it “as is” — Durango would be too close to Wagoneer, and the Jefferson Avenue plant that makes them is already at capacity.
Meanwhile, the old plan to have a single platform for large cars and minivans seems to have been dropped, since the basic large car design was adapted by Maserati and turned into something quite nice indeed — as it no doubt would have been by Chrysler engineers, too, since insiders told us they were thinking of many of the same changes. (We’ll just pretend nobody at Maserati or Alfa Romeo talks to anyone at Chrysler for the moment, to make Harald Wester happy.)
Some rumors have Alfa Romeo adapting the basic Challenger design for their own ends, too. These are likely to be major changes, but some of the costs can be shared with Chrysler if the next generation of large cars are based off those. (It’s not unlike the Pacifica as a “mid-generation” vehicle between two minivans — or how the first-gen “new Challenger” was a sort of transition between first and second generation LX cars.)
Our speculation resulted in the theory that the next generation Dodge Durango will be based on the same platform and most of the same architecture as the next generation Chrysler Town & Country minivan, but coming one or two years later.
The minivan itself may well be loosely based on the current Durango design, with many, many changes:
Front wheel drive instead of rear wheel drive (both have AWD options)
Provisions for handy minivan things like sliding doors and stowable seats
No need for a V8, resulting in a shorter hood
No need for heavy towing, resulting in a lighter body
Each of these changes has many implications, and it’s by no means a quick “hey, let’s just shorten the engine bay by a few inches, drop the ride height, swap in the ZF9 instead of the ZF8, put in a lighter duty differential, and call it quits.” It is, in fact, a multi-billion dollar, multi-year operation, if true — but probably easier and cheaper than starting completely fresh with a blank slate.
The Durango could stay rear wheel drive, though it would increase costs and is probably not necessary for most buyers. Building both a rear drive Durango and front drive minivan on the same line would be a challenge. The competing Ford Explorer is front wheel drive.
Allpar has already been told by a couple of unofficial sources that the “RT” Dodge Caravan will stay in production for a couple of years alongside the “RU” Chrysler Town & Country, while the next generation Caravan replacement is created.
That all brings up what to do with the Caravan name. It is, by far, the #1 minivan in Canada, where Chrysler currently if tenuously enjoys a spot as the best-selling automaker. If Canadians do not cotton to the Chrysler version, a contingency plan may be needed. It could be as simple as keeping lower-level minivans named Dodges and throwing on different front clips in Canada; cheesy, but traditional. Another option would be renaming the Dodge Journey to Dodge Caravan, or doing an extended wheelbase or sliding-door Journey as Caravan. Fortunately, Chrysler did just patent a sliding door design for SUVs and crossovers without the minivans’ patent square sides.
We had assumed that the Durango name would be dropped for Caravan, but Durango is now more desirable, while Caravan’s stint as the low-cost minivan has ended (or cemented the end of) its ability to command a premium price. Since Sergio Marchionne is chasing profits over volume, and that there’s only one minivan plant, and the Durango is commanding better margins, the Caravan name does seem to be endangered in the US.
Jeepers may find that the Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer will get better off-road capability — both because there’s no need to have Durangos on the same basic design (I honestly don’t know if that matters) and, mainly, because customers will pay for nicely loaded Grand Cherokees. It’s no longer so price-sensitive that they need to be cheap with the suspension travel and such. In the short term that’s not needed for sales, but in the long run, Jeep rides off its reputation for off-road capability.
There are some issues with this theory. Danno pointed out, is that every Dodge is supposed to get an SRT version, according to the May five-year plan; and a front wheel drive Durango based on the minivan would be rather hard to “SRT-ize.” Likewise, the Plan demands a Durango refresh in 2017, Journey in 2016, Wagoneer and midsize Chrysler crossover in 2018, and full size Chrysler crossover in 2017. How to reconcile those?
Several publications have now posted spy shots of the next-generation Chrysler minivans, with some alleging that the styling cues indicate a new Dodge Caravan, but one Allpar source says these should not be taken too seriously.
“The current mule pics Car & Driver have show a 200 front fascia and a Durango rear fascia. That is not the true shape, which is still in the early stages. There are plenty of mules driving around, but no true pilots for a few more months yet.”
Another source recently said, “The next generation minivans that we have been seeing all have Durango fasicas — taillights, dashboards, and steering wheels at the minimum.”
The minivans were originally projected to be entering production around January 2015, and the Windsor plant is still scheduled to be closed late this year and back in service in early 2015. Allpar expects the sole new minivan to be the 2016 Chrysler Town & Country, with the current Dodge Caravan remaining in service for a year or two until its crossover-style replacement is ready, based on leaks from the CTC.
Some have suggested dubbing the new minivans Voyager, with the upper models named Voyager Town & Country (as a trim level), to maintain the higher-end nature of the Town & Country name; however, that function would also be accomplished partly by keeping the RT Caravan around, at least for the first year or two.
The new minivans, according to Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne, will have an independent front and rear suspension, an AWD option, and, possibly, a late-production hybrid powerplant.
As government rules get tighter, and to avoid losing customers if/when gas prices rise, automakers are trying to increase gas mileage.
At Chrysler, Ram has been slashing fuel consumption by cutting parasitic losses, using eight-speed automatics, and spreading diesels to the 1500 line. Jeep is busily creating the new Wrangler, with an eye towards saving weight, and Chrysler has been advertising for a senior buyer for large aluminum castings.
While many Jeepers have called for a diesel in American Wranglers, because they conserve fuel while boosting low-end torque, industry insiders are talking about other Wrangler options. For one, there’s likely to be a lot more aluminum in the rugged Wrangler, perhaps including the body tub (a hydroformed steel frame seems to be likely, too).
There’s been some quiet buzz around the idea of a hybrid Wrangler. This would likely not be an all-out effort like Prius, but a repeat of the Durango/Aspen “drop in hybrid” type of solution. We’ve been told to look for something like the FEV seven-speed dual-clutch full hybrid transmission, whose electric motor smooths the ride by eliminating gaps between shifts.
Hybrids have downsides, including added weight and space requirements. The weight of hybrid drive systems has fallen, but current systems still add about 100 pounds and the space needed for the battery pack could be a problem, especially in the two-door Wrangler (perhaps it would be an Unlimited option only).
Whether Jeep actually goes forward with an alternative powertrain may well depend on whether fuel prices shoot up over the next few years. The company may be planning something for their “back pocket,” or for sale in countries where fuel is more expensive. An advantage of transmission-based hybrids is they can be used with either diesels or gasoline engines. Wrangler is a prime candidate for change, since it sells very well but has (along with other cars in its class) poor fuel mileage.
Given rumors that the next-generation Jeep Wrangler will drop its solid-axle suspension, several Allpar members asked consulting engineer Bob Sheaves what Chrysler’s most likely options were. He responded:
1. Hire or contract with Evan Boberg and me to update the Li’l Blue design. This is unlikely and probably would have taken place already, if it were to happen at all.
2. Hire an outside consulting firm with military experience, such as Meritor Defense, AM General, Oshkosh Defense, FEG, or Rod Millen. This is unlikely.
3. Use internal resources and try to adapt the existing Ram truck 4×4 design, or further develop the Li’l Blue design. This is the most likely option.
The challenge for Jeep is making a new Wrangler which is:
similar in price to the current model
the premier off-road vehicle in its price range
more capable and comfortable on-road
more fuel efficient.
Many observers have noted that the company could do this by using expensive alternative materials, eight-speed automatics, diesel engines, and such, rumors still target a move from solid axles to reduce unsprung weight, the biggest change since CJ became Wrangler under AMC. The challenge is creating a reliable, sturdy system with at least as much ground clearance as the current solid-axle design — and as much suspension articulation — without going overboard on cost.
Bob Sheaves, Evan Boberg, and Gerry Hentschel addressed these issues with their innovative Li’l Blue mule; Mr. Sheaves suggested another option, the in-between setup of Ram 4×4 pickups. While the Ram independent front suspension may not be optimized to the technical level required by the new Wrangler, the cost penalties of the Li’l Blue suspension may be too high (and current Jeep engineers might not be able to adapt it). The Ram setup would, at least, be rugged.
The days of the easily-modified Wrangler are probably numbered, unless the company keeps making the old model somewhere as a niche option — which seems unlikely at best, despite all those empty buildings in Michigan and Italy, or the precedent of making older models in Russia, India, and China. Whether that matters is a subject for (intense and never-ending) debate.
Jeep can’t afford to blow this one. The success of the Jeep brand is hinged mainly on the off-road prowess of the Wrangler Rubicon. As the company makes seas of front wheel drive Cherokees and Renegades, the badge remains backed by the faith and credit of Wrangler.
In Windsor, Ontario, workers are no doubt already preparing for the plant’s months-long shutdown and changeover to handle the 2016-model-year minivans, due in the first quarter of 2015. They will have to change quite a few things — Chrysler is finally going to a fully independent suspension, and restoring all wheel drive to the options list. As they did with the Pacifica, the company will also do a crossover version — and, while they ready that, will reportedly keep making the current “RT” Dodge Caravans. That will give Chrysler Canada some time to try to get Canadians to switch from the all-conquering Caravan, which owns nearly the entire Canadian minivan market, to the Town & Country.
We have been told that the Chrysler 200 will provide styling cues for the entire Chrysler lineup, eventually — though the 300, whose sheet metal is largely etched in stone (not the galvanized steel and aluminum you’d normally expect), will have to wait a few years before it matches the brand template. JackRatchett did yeoman’s work in preparing this image of a new minivan with 200 styling cues; note the traditional Chrysler “cross-eyed” windshield wipers, which may clear more of the windshield than conventional “both arms moving the same way” blades.
The 2015 Chrysler 300C may be a bit delayed, according to source “Moparian,” who wrote that the final allocations for the 2014 300/300S/300C will be in September, with buildout of the current model year through December.
The 2015 allocation will open in January 2015, according to this source, with production scheduled for February.
Past reports indicated that the new car would be built starting in December. The reason for the delay is unknown, but Chrysler has been working hard at ramping up production of their eight-speed automatic transmissions in Indiana; these are reportedly to become standard across the entire large car line, with Challenger and Charger already announced.
Some questioned why the flagship Chrysler would be the last to get updates; the primary reason is because it does not need them as much as the Dodges. The 300 is still selling relatively well, with some sales losses after it dropped its base trim model. The Challenger was the car most in need of updates, with the eight-speed completely unavailable; the Pentastar V6 provided substantially slower acceleration and lower mileage with the Mercedes five-speed automatic.