Final Inspection

RIP Dodge Caravan: 1984-2016

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I’m so upset I may even donate, to the Salvation Army, my black crewneck sweater with the blue and white checkered shirt at the collar, the preferred attire of FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne.

I join with soccer moms everywhere in lamenting the word that Chrysler will scrap the Dodge Caravan minivan in 2016.

Technically it’s Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that intends to halt Caravan production two years hence, while keeping the look-alike Chrysler Town & Country in its lineup.

There’s even speculation that the Caravan name may live on, but for those of us who were on hand when the world’s first front-drive minivan arrived 30 years ago, eliminating the Dodge designation is cruel and unusual punishment.

I’m so upset I may even donate, to the Salvation Army, my black crewneck sweater with the blue and white checkered shirt at the collar, the preferred attire of FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne.

WardsAuto statistics show Chrysler has sold 6,260,222 Dodge Caravans to date. While it once owned the market, competition from Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Kia narrowed its share to about 22% in recent years.

GM and Ford quit the minivan market in the mid-2000s. The other automakers remain in the mix, although the overall minivan share of the U.S. light-vehicle market has dwindled from 6.3% 10 years ago to 3.7% now.

Much of that erosion, of course, is traceable to a phalanx of SUVs and CUVs entering the market, appealing to younger and more affluent buyers who have come to view minivans as stodgy.

That’s not how things started out. There was growing speculation in 1982 that Chrysler was readying a minivan, though details were hard to come by. On a whim I inquired as to whether Chrysler might be interested in an exclusive, deep-dive A-to-Z story about the new vehicle. No one else had made this proposal and, surprisingly, I got the green light from CEO Lee Iacocca.

The 7-page story, the result of more than 20 interviews with key players in all aspects of the program, appeared on the cover of Ward’s Auto World in March 1983 – seven months before production was launched in Windsor, ON, Canada.

Filled with lively graphics, statistics and specs, that issue created a sensation when we unveiled it at the 1983 Society of Automotive Engineers Exposition at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Chrysler’s competitors and suppliers got their first look at what was to become a phenomenon: The world’s first front-drive minivan, an entirely new segment.

Postscript: A few months after the Caravan went on sale I happened to see Iacocca. He asked me how I liked my new Caravan. What?

Apparently I had told some Chrysler folks I’d buy one if I got the scoop I had been seeking. So I bought a deep red Caravan and drove it for several years…but never to a soccer game.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on May 9, 2014

If I recall correctly, the first generation or two of the Caravan actually offered a manual gearbox. Which, on a minivan today, would be pretty awesome if done similar to the automatics now, with the gear shift in the rally car position.

on May 12, 2014

You are correct. The '84 Caravan had a 5-speed manual in a worthy 16.7% of production, while the its original stable-mate, Plymouth Voyager, recorded a 14.9% rate. But that was the highpoint after which manual usage declined every year to a low of 1.7% in Caravan and 1.6% in Voyager in model year '90, then disappeared. Town & Country didn't enter the mix until '90 and never offered a manual.

on May 14, 2014

I was first in line when they came out, and was dismayed that the only way to get an automatic (which made more sense for my wife) was to take the awful Mitsu-sourced 2.6L 4-banger. So we went with the 5-speed and never regretted it. If a modern version of that van, stripped by modern standards, were available, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Especially if the turbo-2.5L that was offered one year was available. By the time we bought our second (a Chrysler T&C) they had gained a couple feet in length, and 800+ lbs.

on May 19, 2014

I purchased one of the first '84 Caravans that the local Dodge dealer received, as a worth successor to my '78 Dodge Omni econo-box. True, the 4 cylinder engine was underpowered, but the manual transmission helped and it served us well. Now I'm on my 5th Grand Caravan, and with Stow-n-Go seating it continues to be the Swiss Army knife of personal transportation. I don't want to be without one, but will wait to see its successor before I decide what the future brings (it will be from the 'Detroit 3' or nothing). I still have hopes that the demise of the Dodge Grand Caravan nameplate is an unfounded rumor, but that hope is fading.

on Sep 1, 2014

I wonder if it's a way to give the T&C a higher total for future best selling minivan bragging rights.

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WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

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