November 23, 2011 Autos Insider | Chrysler to offer one minivan, two names in U.S. and Canada | The Detroit News
Chrysler to offer one minivan, two names in U.S. and Canada
Chrysler Group LLC will go from two minivans to one when the family vehicle is redesigned. But the single offering will be branded differently in Canada than in the United States.
When the next-generation minivan debuts in a couple of years, it will be sold as the Chrysler Town & Country in the United States. In Canada, the surviving vehicle will be sold as the Dodge Grand Caravan.
That is because when it comes to minivan buyers, the two countries could not be more different, said Reid Biglund, head of the Dodge brand.
"If we go to one minivan, it would certainly be the Dodge Grand Caravan in Canada, but the Town & Country resonates more strongly here in the U.S., so that's going to be the van in the U.S.," Biglund said in an interview.
An unorthodox solution was necessary to ensure the viability of the minivan, which is a cornerstone of the vehicle lineup. The minivan is credited with saving the company from bankruptcy when it was introduced in 1983.
Chrysler has no intention of losing its grip on a segment it has largely dominated for 28 years.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said the replacement for the current minivans will include one conventional or "classic" version with sliding doors, and a second "people carrier" that will be a large crossover.
Both will share the same underpinnings, offer all-wheel drive and nine-speed automatic transmissions, and continue to be built at the assembly plant in Windsor.
The minivan segment, at less than 500,000 annually in the United States in recent years, is a fraction of its former size. U.S. sales peaked at 1.37 million units in 2000 and exceeded a million units annually from 1993 to 2005, according to WardsAuto.com.
The family vehicles are profitable for Chrysler and its few competitors, including the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. replaced their minivans with large crossovers.
In a strange twist, so far this year the Caravan is leading total U.S. sales, including fleet sales, at 92,930 through October, followed closely by the Sienna at 91,955, Odyssey at 86,436, and Town & Country with 78,255.
Looking at retail sales alone in the United States, however, the Town & Country traditionally outsells the Grand Caravan 2 to 1, said Biglund.
To better differentiate the two offerings when they got a mid-cycle refreshing a year ago, the Town & Country was positioned at a price of $30,000 and higher, while the Dodge fills the gap below $30,000. The strategy will remain in place until they are replaced with only the Town & Country in 2013.
The case is very different in Canada, where the Grand Caravan outsells the Town & Country by a whopping 10-to-1. "There's just so much equity in the Caravan name in Canada," Biglund said.
In Canada, there are more configurations of the Caravan, from base models to high-trim levels to appeal to a wider swath of buyers. The $30,000 price cutoff for Dodge does not apply in Canada.
There is a lot of investment in the Dodge brand in Canada, said the executive who oversees Canadian operations as part of his many duties.
North of the border, where there are about 200 nameplates to choose from, the Grand Caravan is the third-highest-selling vehicle in the country, having recently lost second place to the Dodge Ram pickup. And 70 percent of minivan sales in Canada are the Grand Caravan. When you add in Town & Country sales, "it's just complete minivan domination," Biglund said.