DETROIT – Chrysler Group plays give-and-take – but mostly give – when it launches its fifth-generation minivans this fall.

The auto maker abandons its short-wheelbase model for ’08, noting its competitors do not offer such a product. But the redesigned long-wheelbase Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, unveiled here today at the North American International Auto Show, offer 35 new or improved features.

Highlighting the list are Swivel ’n Go, a variant of Chrysler’s highly successful Stow ’n Go seating system and a 6-speed automatic transmission – a first in the minivan segment.

Undaunted by last year’s 12% decline in Chrysler Town & Country sales and a 6.9% drop in Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan deliveries, the auto maker views the future with considerable optimism, if only because Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. are abandoning the market.

Chrysler defined the segment with the 1983 introduction of its first-generation minivans. Since then, it has sold more than 11 million minivans and commands the largest share of the market.

“We intend to keep it that way,” Trevor Creed, senior vice president-design, says.

The new vans are longer and narrower than their long-wheelbase predecessors. The ’08 measures 202.5 ins. (514.2 cm) long, overall, and is 76.9 ins. (195.3 cm) wide.

The ’07 minivans are 200.5 ins. (509.5 cm) long and 78.6 ins. (199.7 cm) wide.

The vehicle’s height is unchanged at 68.9 ins. (175 cm).

While the functional requirements of minivans call for a basic “egg” shape, Chrysler strives for a “more linear look” with its redesigned ’08 models, Creed says during an auto show preview for journalists.

Both the Town & Country and Grand Caravan also borrow from grille designs made famous by their brand counterparts on the car side, such as the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger.

But the real story is in the interior, where Chrysler unveils Swivel ’n Go, a new twist – literally – on Stow ’n Go. It enables the second-row seats to turn 180 degrees, so rear passengers can face each other.

Unlike Stow ’n Go, Swivel ’n Go seating does not fold flat into the floor. But it retains the covered storage bins that normally accommodate the seats.

In addition, a removable table can be anchored between the second and third rows so facing passengers can snack or play games. Pinpoint light-emitting diode lighting also enhances the cabin’s user-friendly atmosphere.

Marking two more minivan firsts, Chrysler makes integrated child booster seats available in the second-row quad seats, plus one-touch power-folding third-row 60/40 bench seating.

And to allow the outside in, Chrysler follows the trail blazed by Mazda Motor Corp. by adding second-row power windows.

But new features are not confined to the rear of the vehicle. A 2-tier glovebox increases storage capacity and a removable console Chrysler likens to a Swiss Army knife, in terms of functionality, can slide back and forth for sharing between the first and second rows.

Chrysler also adds its minivans to the growing list of products that benefit from the auto maker’s MyGIG infotainment system, which includes a 20-gigabyte hard drive that enables users to import 100 hours of digital music and dozens of photos that can be displayed on the dash like a computer desktop. The system also accommodates navigation and, when the vehicle is parked, plays DVDs.

Further enhancing the vehicles’ practicality is an umbrella holder and a feature that debuted on the ’07 Dodge Caliber small car – a removable flashlight built in to a charger mounted in the headliner.

But there is another, arguably more important requirement for minivans. “The price of entry in minivans is safety,” Chief Engineer Chris Alaniz says.

So Chrysler has listed, as standard equipment, electronic stability control and all-row side-curtain airbags with rollover protection. The auto maker’s rear back-up camera system, ParkView, also is available.

Three powertrains are offered across the auto maker’s 5-model range: two Dodges and three Chryslers. Top of the line is the 4.0L V-6 first revealed under the hood of the ’07 Chrysler Pacifica, except the minivan application generates 240 hp compared with the cross/utility vehicle’s 255-hp output.

Both the new 4.0L engine and the holdover 3.8L V-6 are mated to a new 6-speed automatic transmission. The smaller engine generates 198 hp.

The base engine remains the 170-hp 3.3L V-6. But it is capable of running on E85, a gasoline-ethanol mix.

Chrysler will divide assembly of its new minivans between plants in St. Louis and Windsor, ON, Canada.

Production is scheduled to begin in time to accommodate dealer deliveries by this fall.

emayne@wardsauto.com