Chrysler invented the modern minivan more than 40 years ago, and it may be the first to bring a plug-in hybrid minivan to market. Al Gardner, president and CEO of Chrysler for North America, told the Detroit Bureau last week the plug-in hybrid is definitely part of the Chrysler brand’s future product plan.
Sergio Marcchione, head of Fiat/Chrysler/Alfa Romeo (FCA), went on record as saying the PHEV Chrysler minivan should be ready for the Detroit International Auto Show in 2016.
It is somewhat mystifying why the world’s car makers have ignored this segment of the market for so long. Say what you will about “soccer moms”, there is no better vehicle for transporting young families with children and all their gear than the lowly minivan. And year after year, the industry sells millions of them for just that reason. The minivan would also seem to be the ideal starting point for a plug-in hybrid conversion too. They tend to ride higher off the ground that sedans and offer lots of places to add batteries and electric motors. So does a pickup truck, now that I mention it.
Chrysler has hit a home run with its 200 sedan lately. The success of the 200 has given FCA confidence that the Chrysler brand can thrive in the middle of the market by offering uniquely American style with the latest and best technology. “Everyone else in the segment is a little dull. The 200 is not supposed to be a “me-too” vehicle,” says Gardner.
That new feeling of confidence has inspired Chrysler to make a major push to compete head-to-head not only with Ford and GM, but Honda, Toyota and Nissan, too. Chrysler has begun a major renovation of its historic Windsor assembly plant to build the next generation minivan.
The upgrades include a new “skillet” system that allows workers to adjust the height of the vehicle to suit their stature and needs as the new vehicle proceeds through the assembly process. The skillet is said to reduce worker fatigue and improve quality. Chrysler is very proud of this step forward in manufacturing, even though it was invented by Saturn Corporation almost 30 years ago. (Full disclosure: I am a former Saturn employee and proud of it!)
Is Chrysler finally ready to get serious about vehicle electrification? It may not have a choice this late in the game.