Count Volkswagen AG Officially in the U.S. minivan segment, now that Routans are arriving in showrooms.

VW enters the market after General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. already have exited, leaving Chrysler LLC to defend the top spot against the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.

“From the customer standpoint, what we see is a couple life stages where people benefit from the minivan,” Bret Scott, product planning manager for Volkswagen of America Inc., tells Ward's.

“If they can get over the philosophy of owning a minivan, which we find a lot of people do, if it's a cool Volkswagen, we think they'll get into it and they won't get out of it,” Scott says.

The Routan springs from a partnership with Chrysler, which is producing the minivan in Windsor, ON, Canada.

Much of the running gear, such as 3.8L and 4.0L V-6s and automatic transmissions, carry over from the Chrysler products, and VW did not tinker significantly with the basic Chrysler concept.

VW will source minivans from Chrysler for five years. After that, Scott declines to say if VW will produce its own minivans, perhaps at the new plant the German auto maker is building in Chattanooga, TN. The plant will produce a midsize sedan beginning in 2011 at a rate of about 125,000 units annually.

Meanwhile, Scott says he is glad to put to rest the question as to which auto maker pioneered the minivan segment.

Ward's readers repeatedly credit the VW Microbus as the first minivan, in the 1960s. But Chrysler generally gets credit for producing the first modern, front-wheel-drive minivan, starting in 1984.

Scott says the Chrysler minivan “defined what all other minivans following it are basically designed around. I would say we had the first people carrier, but it wasn't a minivan.”

VW Minivan Plans Unhindered by Chrysler Production Move
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