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Can Chrysler Keep Its Grip on the Minivan Market




It should be a time to celebrate over at Chrysler. After all, the automaker’s two cross-town rivals have effectively abandoned the long-lucrative minivan market, leaving the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan the only two remaining domestic offerings.

Unfortunately, despite the launch of highly-reviewed, all-new 2009 minivan models, Chrysler is watching its share of the critical segment plunge. Together, sales of its two models have dropped a whopping 12 percent since they were updated, last year, notes a report in today’s Detroit Free Press.

Why is the proverbial $64 question. The Michigan maker would prefer to put the blame on its move to scale back low-profit daily rental and other fleet sales, as well as the decision to abandon the short-wheelbase version of the Town & Country and Caravan models.

Perhaps, but there are other factors at play, analysts and observers tell TheCarConnection.com. For one thing, Chrysler has been taking hits for quality snafus, notably in the April issue of the influential Consumer Reports magazine. And it doesn’t help that while General Motors and Ford have dropped out of the minivan race, key Asian competitors have only ramped up their attack on the segment.

In a stunning surprise, Honda briefly overtook Chrysler on the sales charts, late in 2007, though the American maker retained the lead for the full year.

It doesn’t help that minivan sales, as a whole, have dipped by double-digit numbers for the last two years in a row. A Chrysler spokesman recently posted a review, on the company blog, insisting it’s not time to “write off minivans,” but increased foreign competition, along with the overall declining market, certainly is leading Chrysler officials to rethink their options.

In recent months, Chrysler officials have announced plans to scale back their overall line-up, eliminating weak models like the PT Cruiser Convertible. And Vice Chairman Jim Press has asserted that a critical corporate goal is to better differentiate what are now look-alike products shared by divisions such as Chrysler and Dodge. Despite different accessories, that pretty well describes the Town & Country and Caravan minivans.

For the time being, it seems, Chrysler will have to re-jig its marketing campaign to rebuild momentum for the struggling minivans, a move almost certain to be accompanied by hefty new incentives, during the upcoming Spring selling season.

Longer-term, however, some observers, the Free Press noted, are wondering if Chrysler just might drop one of its current minivan offerings, opting to switch to a different, more youth-oriented “people move” design, in line with Ford’s new Flex model. Which Chrysler model would go? The Dodge Caravan has traditionally been the high-volume package, but its sales are slipping, while the higher-priced Town & Country is faring unexpectedly well in the marketplace.

One thing is clear, Chrysler can’t afford to become an also-ran in the huge market segment it created, nearly a quarter century ago. But finding the key to a turnaround in the minivan market won’t be easy.

We Drive Chrysler's Town & Country. (3/28/08
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Comments (26)
  1. As a prior owner of three Chrysler minivans, who now drives a Honda Odyssey, the cause for the disappointing sales of Chrysler's new minivans couldn't be more clear. Compared to my 2000 Town & Country Limited, the new models are a giant step backward in both exterior and interior styling. Outside, Chrysler took a graceful and elegant design and replaced it with the box it came in. Inside, flowing organic shapes in soft and pleasing tones were replaced by a cubist nightmare of hard edges, cold colors and acres of cheap plastics. I do appreciate the functional improvements of the new Chrysler minivans, but they don't count for much if I don't like the looks ... and it appears I am not the only one.
     
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  2. Drive before you write it off. Finest minivan Chrysler has built
     
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  3. Those who drive the Chrysler mini-vans really know the "Consumer Reports" does not know what they are talking about. Have owned 4 of them, even during the year of the transmission problems, and loved them all. Only left because the family left the house and my wife wanted a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
     
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  4. I recently purchased a Jeep Commander for its third-row seat so in a way, Chrysler still got my money. However, in the process I checked out the new Town and Country. The kids loved the two video screens and thought it was the coolest car they had ever seen as they sat on the showroom floor and watched a movie. Myself... I looked at everything else and the plastic alone killed it for me. The expanses of cheap-looking plastics in the interior is mind boggling. The Town and Country is supposed to be upscale; I couldn't put myself through looking at the Dodge version!

    The plastic pockets on the back of the front seats look like a discarded part from a kids big wheel! Yuck! The center stack looks like a definite step backwards - multiple plastic pieces cobbled together to make a place for the radio and AC controls.

    No thanks, I'm extremely happy with my Commander. For the price we added the factory DVD as part of the deal (which works great) and it handles the snow in my area much better than any minivan.

    I walked away disappointed in the fact that Chrysler has completely failed to compete with the competition yet again. We test drove the Toyota Sienna and were unimpressed and liked the Odyssey but it is too pricy once you add any real options to the base vehicle. Chrysler could have charged 800 to 1000 more to include a real upscale interior and still would have been cheaper than the Honda.
     
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  5. I'm impressed that Chrysler has managed to stave off the Japanese this long considering what has happened in the sedan market. The Stow-n-Go feature was a huge coup for them. People were so taken by that clever bit of engineering that it sold them on the vehicle. Success for the automakers isn't going to come from hiring hot-shot CEO's with their $252 million dollar golden parachutes but from putting the right people in place from the bottom up.
     
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  6. The next model of the Odyssey will leave Chrysler in second place in the minivan market and Nissan has yet to become a powerful competitor in that segment.

    I expect chrysler to fall to third place in minivan sales within the next few years.

    We bought an Odyssey minivan after comparing it to the Town and Country.
     
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  7. The new for '08 vans are great riding and driving vans. Yeah they did take a small step back in design, but they are still nice looking vans! I do totally agree with everyone on the interior plastics. Very very bad. I think that a little extra time and money could have gone into soft touch materials for the dash and the armrests, it's just all a tad too cheesey!
     
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  8. The exterior of the new Chryslers is fine with me. I have not seen their interior, but the prior generation was rather lousy and far inferior to the Odysseys.

    Hondas willalways be a little more expensive to buy compared to similar didges and chryslers, BUT if you add ALL the costs (repairs, fuel, maintenance, etc) AND deduct the (much higher for the Honda, even in % terms) RESALE VALUE, the Honda will always make much more economic sense, AND in addition you will have a far more pleasant driving experience. plus better active and passive safety, a big factor in Minivans.

    SOmebody said he's very happy with the Jeep Commander vs the Chrysler Vans. The commander is basically a slightly larger Grand Cherokee, with a cramped third row. The interior volume is far, far less than the Odyssey or the Chrysler vans (esp. the long wheelbase versions), and the fuel efficiency far, far worse. Plus I'm sure the Commander has a far greater price tag than the minivans. Not the right vehicle if you want to take kids to soccer practice. I'm surprised that $3.50 gas has not hit real hard the owners of such Commanders yet.
     
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  9. PS Consumer reports know DAMN WELL what they are talking about, AND in addition they are 100% UNBiased, they buy their vehicles RETAIL and DO NOT accept them as gifts as the enthusiasts mags do,

    and in addition, their reliability data are from 100,000 of private individuals and not cooked up by some spin doctor.

    I found CR 100% accurate in their recommendations BOTH for my Honda Accord 18 yr 2-door 5-speed coupe AND for my BMW 7 series .
     
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  10. Perhaps if Chrysler had donwsized and built something along the lines of the Mazda5 (of course with a better interior too) it would be viewed as different enough from Honda and Toyota, and also desirable for fuel mileage and handling.

    A smaller size would also appeal to more Europeans, and Chrysler can really use more Euros right about now...
     
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  11. It's bad enough quality is bad due to ongoing cutting corners, which is why consumers will find more websites about Chrysler problems than even GM and Ford put together such as http://www.daimlerchryslervehicleproblems.com and http://www.dontbuydodgechryslervehicles.com but then they had to go and make what was a very good looking minivan, look ugly?

    Chrysler doesn't have the quality but certainly had the sleek looks until the redesigned minivan, what a shame! The front isn't too bad looking but the back looks like a Ford Econoline or something, took away the curves, the style.

    I don't understand it, what were they thinking? They should have had whoever designed the Dodge Journey do the exterior redesign of their minivans and base it on that style, which actually the Dodge Journey looks extremely sharp!
     
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  12. I agree that the Dodge/Chrysler minivans went through a dramatic 'uglification' this time around - inside AND out. And I know two families that skipped it for just that reason, as well as for a smaller interior than the competition. I saw the new mini's at a recent autoshow, and I too thought they looked cramped on the inside - a real surprise when interior space is what a mini is supposed to be all about. I don't know what the numbers say, but just sitting in one was claustrophobic. The Odyssey and the Sienna (especially the latter) seemed much more open to me.

    But back to the appearance - I think Daimler basically infected Chrysler with a bad case of the 'Bangles' ... as in Chris Bangle, the cursed "designer" who every German car company - excluding Porsche - has rushed to copy (God help us). In short order after they were bought, Chrysler went from flowing cab-forward designs to boxy, illogically creased monstrosities. Has anyone seen the new Dodge Ram truck? What was once the standout class of the segment has become a bland joke that looks like it's about to tip over on it's snout!

    It may seem superficial, but for car shoppers looks definitely matter. Chrysler would do itself a real favor by laying off the designers hired by their former German Overlords and dusting off some of those mid-to-late 90s designs. Freshen them up and put them back on the road. The money saved using the old jigs could go towards focusing on improving the company's fuel economy numbers at the same time. Aesthetics aside, Chrysler just doesn't seem to recognize that gas isn't 99c a gallon anymore either.
     
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  13. I owned a '96 Chrysler van that went through four transmissions, and I will not buy a Chrysler product again. I know there are many others who feel the same way. Chrysler's poor quality is the reason people are not buying their vans, and judging by the pictures and Consumer Reports data, the current vans are no better than my '96 in this regard. Chrysler has lost its grip on this market, and with reliable, attractive competitors like the Odyssey, Chrysler is unlikely to ever regain it.
     
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  14. While many aspects of the new minivan may have been improved, as far as exterior styling goes, Chrysler whacked it with the ugly stick about three times too many.

    The previous generation was, in terms of exterior styling, probably the pinnacle of minivan design. From the rear, the new generation looks like the Honda Element, and not in a good way. I saw lots of the new Chrysler minivans on the road in Orlando (rentals for tourists), but here in the heartland I see Hondas and Toyotas.

    I haven't seen the new Dodge Ram in person, but if it was styled by the same crew that did the new Chrysler minivans, then you can stick a fork in the company because it will be D-U-N done.
     
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  15. New Chrysler mini-van front looks too much like new Subaru Tribeca from distance, and looks boring. For the same money Chrysler should have come up something more dynamic and with more character. Like 300C or PT. It'll be interesting to see how well those interior parts hold up for 4 or more years after loan is paid off.
     
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  16. this mini van is a clone of the handa
    Do not buy it ,as the drive train is sub par, plastic interior and cheapness makes it a poor reseller. the resale value on it is one of the poorest in the industry
     
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  17. At first, Chrysler's new minivans seemed a bit bland for my taste. But to be honest, their styling is now growing on me. Not to the point that they will win any beauty contest but to at least think they're quite ok. On any account, they're not any worse than Honda's, Toyota's, Hyundai's and Nissan's. Of course Thor raves about the Odyssey. I wouldn't have expected any less from this Honda-biased individual who fails to take into account real price tag difference once you leave the dealer's lot + interest rates. A grand Caravan, once you've negotiated a decent price, constitutes a pretty good bargain for most middle-class families whose purchasing power has nothing to do with that of Donald Trump. Personally, I would give them a better v6 engine and a diesel option.
     
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  18. "Of course Thor raves about the Odyssey. I wouldn’t have expected any less from this Honda-biased individual "

    THIS IS UTTER GARBAGE. FALSE CHARGES WITHOUT PROOF.

    In fact, the Odyssey is the UNDISPUTED King of Minivans NOT ONLY from thje point of view of SERRIOUS AND UNBIASED PUBLICATIONS such as CONSUMER REPORTS that REPORT reliability and satisfaction data from 100,000 REAL ACTUAL OWNERS and NOT spin BS, and buy their cars RETAIL and NEVER Accept them as GIFTS and LOANS as Most OTHER auyto publications DO,

    BUT In addition, the Odyssey has been RANKD NUMBER ONE YEAR AFTER YEAR EVEN BY THOSE PUBLICATIONS such as CAR AND DRIVER (see top 5 pickup trucks).

    You just can't stand that the morons that run the big 3, both their CEOS and their CORRUPT Union leaders, have been LOSING HOME GAMES EVERY YEAR FOR 30 years IN A ROW, to the japanese, but, EVEN More DEVASTGATING losses in the LUXURY segment, where Lincoln and Caddilac used to OWN 90% of THAT market, and they own less than 17% of it NOW!!!!!!! And they lost not to the japanese but largely to the GERMAN Luxury big 3 (MB, BMW and AUDI) and lexus only from japan (infi and Acura have far less sales)

    So take your false charges, ignorant clown, and go away.
     
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  19. MORE ON WHY FORD AND GM ABANDONED THEIR CRAPPY MINIVANS.

    Another horror story on the quality of domestic minivans:

    I have a visiting professor from Europe working under my supervision at U of Michigan Ann Arbor for the next half year. He brought his wife and two young kids, and liked the ample space minivans provide.

    Despite my repeated warnings to stick with honda or Toyota vehicles, he found none within his $6,000 budget, not even a tiny Toyo Matrix, and bought a POS Pontiac Montana with ...leather seats no less, a 2001, with 97k miles, and without a warranty (also despite having warned him that this is the only good thing about buying from a used car dealer thug). But ewven if he bought the warranty, it would only cover $1,000 total repairs. LAUGHABLE, since after driving the van for a few miles (less than 100!), it needs at least $1,500 of repairs (mostly gaskets! and this is twice the amount a friend paid to fix the gaskets in a BMW 7 series, at the dealer!)

    I really feel sorry for them, the dealer clown took advantage of them and sold them a POS that he KNEW had problems. A Mechanic supposedly checked it and said it was OK, but I wonder who was that mechanic, was he at the dealership? LOL..

    The above shows why Ford and GM abandoned the Minivan sector after repeated attempts with crappy and crappier products over two decades.

    It also shows why TOyota and Honda are doing so well... LOL
     
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  20. «You just can’t stand that the morons that run the big 3, both their CEOS and their CORRUPT Union leaders, have been LOSING HOME GAMES EVERY YEAR FOR 30 years »

    «So take your false charges, ignorant clown, and go away.» (Thor)

    First of all, I must admit Thor gets upset every time one disagrees with him. He gets offended even when there is no basis for it. On top of that, he allows himself to be disrespectful towards people calling them such nice things as morons, clowns, and what not while he hides behind a computer screen. (pityful I must say)

    Then he uses Consumers Report data to wrap himself into a shroud of apparent truth that noone can deny otherwise he would be deemed ignorant. But hey buddy I'm really sorry to tell you that other people apart from yourself also have knowledge about the auto world whether you like it or not.

    By the way, you see up here in Canada we have a magazine that more or less corresponds to Consumers report. It's called Protégez-Vous. Year after year it lists Japanese cars on top of just about every category. Surprisingly, in its latest edition, the Camry has fallen from grace and now belongs to the «not recommended» realm due to numerous engine problems reported by actual owners. Personally, I still think the Camry is a good car even though I'm not crazy about the way it looks (too plain for me). However, since this magazine, which is based on owner surveys, has stated that the Camry is no longer a recommended pick, I expect you to say it loud and clear to the world in one of your upcoming posts. After all the magazine said so.

    Concerning the Grand Caravan, I just hope Chrysler decides to put a clean diesel in it as an option, equips it with a more potent V6 and enhances the interior plastics. If it did just that, I'm sure sales would soar tremendously.

    Hey Thor, Civics and CRV's suspension problems that Honda wouldn't fix? Toyota with engine sludge and the cie refusing to honor its warranty claiming owners hadn't maintained their vehicle properly? ...those are real and documented yet you wouldn't know...

    I just love to read your posts because I know they'll be biased and conclude on the same note....«buy Honda the rest is shit ».


    I truly feel like calling you what you really are but I'll abstain for you are not worthy of giving me that pleasure. And as Winston Churchill once said, «Sir I believe you are practicing antidisestablishmentarianism »
     
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  21. A couple replies to earlier posts...

    To BC Saxman -- You were right on target with the looks aspect. Not superficial at all. In fact, think about other major purchases. People who buy 'ugly' houses often do so out of necessity because of their limited finances, location, etc. and would certainly buy a beautiful home if they could. And who'd spend their hard-earned money on a cheap plastic floating brick (imagine a Chrysler-made boat) to spend their leisure time out on the water -- Nobody with a brain. Now imagine a Toyota or Lexus boat -- Awesome!

    To Thor -- What's with your overly-enthusiastic and auTHORitarian posts? Why are you lecturing to us as if you need to teach us all? Are you paid by Consumer Reports or any other corporate entity to espouse as you do? My guess is yes, otherwise, why do you have a NEED to put others in their place with your 'knowledge'? Live and let live, dude! And quit trying to show us how big your 'hammer' is! I don't care! If I want to buy a Yugo, don't tell me how stupid I am, just wish me good luck.
     
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  22. MORE ON WHY FORD AND GM ABANDONED THEIR CRAPPY MINIVANS.

    Another horror story on the quality of domestic minivans:

    I have a visiting professor from Europe working under my supervision at U of Michigan Ann Arbor for the next half year. He brought his wife and two young kids, and liked the ample space minivans provide.

    Despite my repeated warnings to stick with honda or Toyota vehicles, he found none within his $6,000 budget, not even a tiny Toyo Matrix, and bought a POS Pontiac Montana with …leather seats no less, a 2001, with 97k miles, and without a warranty (also despite having warned him that this is the only good thing about buying from a used car dealer thug). But ewven if he bought the warranty, it would only cover $1,000 total repairs. LAUGHABLE, since after driving the van for a few miles (less than 100!), it needs at least $1,500 of repairs (mostly gaskets! and this is twice the amount a friend paid to fix the gaskets in a BMW 7 series, at the dealer!)

    I really feel sorry for them, the dealer clown took advantage of them and sold them a POS that he KNEW had problems. A Mechanic supposedly checked it and said it was OK, but I wonder who was that mechanic, was he at the dealership? LOL..

    The above shows why Ford and GM abandoned the Minivan sector after repeated attempts with crappy and crappier products over two decades.

    It also shows why Toyota and Honda are doing so well… LOL
     
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  23. I agree that the new Chrysler is ugly, both inside and outside. I am one of those owners of GM minivans, and my Venture has 158,000 with no major repairs. I have been very happy with the vehicle, and hope to keep driving it for many more miles. I drove the Odyssey, and didn't like the feel of the vehicle on the road. I am one of those customers who is dissapointed GM didn't continue in minivans.
     
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  24. Sorry Ted, I have to defend Thor... He always comes to one of two conclusions, regardless of the question:

    1) Honda; or
    2) MODERN diesel.

    The irony is that they currently don't co-exist... According world.honda.com, Honda is hoping to start selling diesels only in 2009, and they won't even make them themselves...
     
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  25. Guess the only people who think the new Chrysler mini-vans are any good are the smart people who have two or more chidren (not kids-they are goats) and know that the plastic will clean up when the apple juice/chocolate milk/puk ends up on it. They are functional and probably not the type of vehilcle that will be washed/cleaned out every week because they are being USED everyday to take the family somewhere to do something. For those of you who want more power there is a 4 liter (whatever happened to cubic inches) 6 cylineder available. They maybe rated best by CR but there are more Chrysler mini-vans on the road. Just watch as you travel.
     
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  26. A good friend of mine; a fellow with four children (now grown), bought a new Chevy Lumina APV way back in 1993. (Remember the long nosed "ant easter" vans?) It was equipped with the standard 3.1 liter V6. He kept at for more than ten years, and it had around 250,000 largely trouble free miles on it in 2004. He and his wife decided that APV stood for "A Perfect Van". A teacher friend of mine has a 99 Venture that she and her husband (with three children) bought new. It too has over 200,000 miles now and has never had a real problem.

    I have owned a Voyager and two Caravans. Next time I would buy a Chevrolet Uplander.
     
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