BALTIMORE –is keeping close to the vest which brand will get its next-generation minivan, but a decision has been made, says the auto maker’s minivan vehicle-line executive.
Designers and engineers presented top management with several options before the final call was determined, Phil Jansen tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of a media drive here for the500L.
“Designers start off wanting to know the vision of the vehicle early in the phase of the program, regardless of what brand it is,” he says. “We will do designs for many different brands and styles.
“The minivan has a set of requirements we must deliver, and we can do it for a lot of different brands,” he adds. “(But) once we know the brand, then we start to focus on performance and features.”
CEO Sergio Marchionne has said either the Dodge Grand Caravan orTown & Country will be axed. There has been no formal announcement of the decision or indication of when plans will be revealed.
But questions over the future of the Grand Caravan have been raised, as the Dodge brand is set to lose several models over the next few years, according to a WardsAuto/Automotive Compass production forecast.
Regardless of which marque gets the model, there still is a market for minivan buyers, Jansen says. Sales are far from peak levels, but the auto maker believes there remains a significant base of buyers who seek the functionality of a minivan.
“Look at what others have done recently,” he says “Look atand what they’ve done with the Odyssey. Families still exist. Families need basic cargo (capacity).”
Jansen says there are two types of minivan buyers: Young families and older drivers who want cargo- and passenger-hauling capability, but not necessarily the ruggedness of an SUV.
The next-generation minivan will need to blend fuel economy with performance, executives say. Jansen gives no hint whether the new model will be smaller, but trends in Europe – particularly the just-revealed500L Living, a 7-passenger version of the B-segment compact – may point in that direction.
“I don’t care if you have it as an A-segment or B-segment, you want similar levels of doing the fundamentals right,” he says. “There are lots of minivans, especially in Europe, that are much smaller and (have a) 7-passenger, narrower setup. That is a successful market in Europe.
“You can definitely make it smaller. The question is, is that what should be done?”
Although the minivan has ceded plenty of ground to the cross/utility vehicle, there still is room for both, Jansen contends.
“Is it a growing segment? Probably not. Is it a mature segment? Yes. Is the market going away? It’s anyone’s guess,” he says. “(But) Sergio has made a very clear statement that we think the market is not going away We also don’t think the market is going to grow two or three times its current size.”