Friday, August 3, 2007

2008 Chrysler minivans let middle-sitters
face rear-sitters

Aiming to lure customers back from SUVs and "crossover" vehicles, 2008 Chrysler and Dodge minivans are packed with new technology and a seating arrangement that lets families hang out around a virtual "kitchen table" on the road.

The centerpiece of the redesigned 2008 Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country is a second-row seat that can spin 180 degrees to face backward. Nicknamed "Swivel n' Go" after the carmaker's popular "Stow n' Go" flat-fold seats, the new seats create space for a one-legged table that lets passengers eat, do homework or pile things up the way they would in the house.

But the minivans, which hit showrooms later this month, are crammed with an array of new features that smooth away any remnant of the old fuddy-duddy mom-mobile.

Pinpointed overhead LEDs provide bright, targeted illumination more akin to airplane reading lights than the old halo lamps. A convex "conversation mirror" drops down above the rearview to give the driver a full view of what's going on in back, while the middle console slides nearly 2 feet backward and forward, allowing people riding in the front seats to ferry items — snacks, headphones, whatever — to the rear without blind backward tosses or uncomfortable twisting.

The minivans also boast a unique multiple-output entertainment system designed to eliminate the forced compromises of earlier days by channeling different options to passengers riding in separate parts of the van. That means the youngest kids in the middle can watch Nickelodeon on satellite while their parents get Sirius radio in the front and older siblings scan music on a built-in 20-gigabyte hard drive or watch R-rated DVDs in the back seat.

Meanwhile, the original Stow n' Go technology has been upgraded so that the third-row seats fold down automatically into a hatch with the push of a button. They can also be somersaulted backward to create cushioned seating for tailgating parties.

The new models are boxier and more imposing than their predecessors, with a new suspension that gives a confident ride. Gone is the rounded, pod-like exterior of earlier models; banished is the wobbly "minivan" feel on the road

The minivan's designers employ words such as "tailored" and "rich" to describe the Town & Country models, targeted at wealthier parents or at new retirees looking for an upgraded way to cart around grandkids. The Dodge equivalents, meanwhile, are "sinister" — not a word usually associated with minivans. "It's tough, it's angry, it's in your face," according to chief designer Mark Trostle, who said the new Caravans echo the look of the successful Magnum car.

Chrysler, in the midst of its corporate breakup from DaimlerChrysler and sale to private equity firm Cerberus, is depending on the new line to help it stay ahead of encroaching competition in the minivan market from Honda and Toyota, especially now that General Motors and Ford have halted minivan production.

Minivan sales rose quickly when Chrysler introduced them in 1983 as a 1984 model. Annual sales crossed 900,000 in 1990 and peaked at 1.37 million in 2000. But since then, the vehicle has started to fall out of favor, especially with the introduction of car-based crossovers that can carry as many people.

Sales dropped to 970,708 last year, and through July, 477,662 were sold, a 22 percent decrease from the first seven months of 2006.

Chrysler says it believes the new models provide a level of convenience and value that consumers won't find in sport-utility vehicles or in newer crossovers. "There is no substitute for a minivan," said Rick Kukucka, a marketing director for the company.

Still, Chrysler Group isn't taking chances. In July, the company announced it would offer lifetime repairs on the engines, transmissions and drive systems of most cars sold in the US. (info from The Associated Press)


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Chrysler minivan is perfect all-purpose vehicles for people with a lot of practical sensibilities. It is also a fun car with style. It exceptionally convenient tagging along the whole family specially with kids. Model 2008 promises more excitements that ever! Chrysler minivan, the original ONE, never strayed from it purpose and keeps on improving year after year!