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The future Durango and Caravan

by David Zatz on

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?

Stay tuned and we’ll give it a shot.

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