Report: Chrysler CEO Marchionne to Decide the Fate of the Town & Country and Grand Caravan

By Trevor Dorchies | May 04, 2012
Abraham Lincoln (you know, that guy on the five-dollar bill) once said "whatever you are, be a good one." While Lincoln was gone long before Chrysler became an official corporation in 1925, the Auburn Hills-based automaker appears to have taken that bit of advice to heart when it comes to the minivan segment. For nearly 30 years, Chrysler has reined supreme in the minivan segment, thanks to the upscale Town & Country and the more economy-based Dodge Grand Caravan. Now, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is at a crossroads. The minivan segment continues to shrink but Chrysler continues to be the best-selling minivan, accounting for at least 40 percent of the U.S. market since 2007. While Marchionne is aware of this, he is still considering killing off one of Chrysler Group's popular minivan entrants. There hasn't been any indication as to which minivan—the Grand Caravan or Town & Country—Marchionne will elect to discontinue, but this isn't the first time this type of speculation has surfaced. Marchionne has tossed around the idea of cancelling one model and having the other model target a broader market. This may prove troublesome for Marchionne and company, as the Grand Caravan sells for less than $30,000 while the Town & Country starts above $30,000. Finding a happy medium may be the solution for Chrysler and its minivan offering dilemma. Chrysler hasn't enjoyed its spot at the top of the minivan segment heap without a encountering a fight or two though, as heavyweight automakers like Ford, Chevrolet, Honda, and Toyota have all offered or currently offer a minivan. Back in 2000, minivan sales swelled to a sales peak of 1.37 million units, but only 472,398 minivans were sold by all automakers in 2011. If Chrysler decides to go with one minivan, it will bring the total of minivans offered in the United States to six, down from 22 back in 2004. The Town & Country and Grand Caravan accounted for 15 percent of Chrysler's 1.37 million deliveries in 2011 while the Odyssey, Honda's minivan offering, accounted for 9.3 percent of Honda's sales. Toyota's Sienna checked in with 6.8 percent of total sales last year for the Japanese automaker. Over the past three decades, Chrysler has enjoyed one of the longest uninterrupted runs as king of a segment that has only been seen by the Ford F-Series, which has spent 35 years as king of the truck hill.
Chrysler has already begun exploring its possible next steps and even quietly displayed a concept at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Dubbed the 700C, the concept was balked at by many, but Chrysler says not everything seen on the 700C concept will make it into production if that day ever comes. Chrysler was on schedule to introduce a completely overhauled minivan architecture by 2014 according to Marchionne speaking with Business Week recently. Now, the Windsor, Ontario facility responsible for production of the Grand Caravan and Town & Country, which was originally slated to close for 10 weeks in October of next year for an overhaul of new equipment, will now be pushed back to 2017. At one time, Chrysler sold five different minivan models including offerings from Plymouth. Chrysler began producing minivans after its government bailout in 1979 and the automaker hasn't looked back since. Some accredit Chrysler for inventing the minivan and in turn, the minivan saved the automaker from going under. There's always been a need from families for a vehicle that can haul everyone and their cargo and as gas prices continue to rise making SUVs tougher to come by, the minivan has and will continue to be there. Now, the ball is in Chrysler court and as always, stay tuned as Marchionne moves closer to making a decision. Source: Business Week