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Chrysler sold 46,732 Dodge Grand Caravans in Canada last year (Chrysler)
Chrysler sold 46,732 Dodge Grand Caravans in Canada last year (Chrysler)

Driving It Home

Like Magic: There will be a Caravan-sized hole in Chrysler’s lineup Add to ...

I’ve been covering the auto industry long enough to remember the launch of the first Chrysler “Magic Wagons” 30 years ago. Thirty years. How many millions of Canadian kids have grown up in and around the Dodge Caravan, Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country, as well as the now-defunct Plymouth Voyager and Grand Voyager? Too many to count.

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And then just like that, today Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne sounded the death knell for the Grand Caravan – at least for U.S. buyers. An era has passed. This, if nothing else, means Chrysler Canada will have a big hole in its lineup when the Grand Caravan minivan is dropped from the lineup in 2016. Or will it? Read on.

Whatever unfolds, it’s worth remembering that the Magic Wagons, along with the K-Cars, saved Chrysler back in the 1980s and everyone in the company understands that legacy and what it means even now, in 2014. Indeed, the first Magic Wagons were cheap and functional people haulers that skirted some passenger car rules because they were officially classified as “light trucks.” That’s why the originals did not come with rear-seat headrests as standard equipment.

Over three decades, Chrysler refined its minivans, dropping the Magic Wagon moniker. The early 1990s marked the high point for these family haulers, when Chrysler leapfrogged the competition with a new van that had a sliding door on each side. Ford, with its Windstar, did not see the second slider as a big innovation, and paid the price in lost sales. Ford’s poor decision making, in truth, was the beginning of the end for the Windstar as a legitimate rival to the Magic Wagon.

Alas, as those minivan kids grew up, they and their parents shed their minivan ways. Today, say “minivan” in a room full of baby boomers and listen to the “ughs.” More expensive crossovers and SUVs have replaced the minivan as the family transportation of choice.

Though not with everyone. Last year the Grand Caravan was the sixth best-selling vehicle in Canada, with 46,732 sold. Sure, sure, almost every one of those Grand Caravans was sold at a deep discount. But the sheer sale volume has kept Chrysler Canada’s dealers busy.

For buyers, the Grand Caravan remains one of the great buys in family vehicles. For less than $20,000, a family on a tight budget can get a very well equipped ride with three-row seating, endless cupholders, a strong V-6 engine, Stow ‘n Go storage and more. That’s why Canadians bought skads of Grand Caravans, and another 8,425 Chrysler Town & Country minivans in 2013, too.

Chrysler Canada, for its part, most definitely plans to hold onto its leadership position in minivans, says marketing vice-president Ed Broadbear.

“We will offer Canadian consumers a minivan that will suit their needs,” he said, adding, “We are not going to give away minivan sales.”

The details of all this for Canada, however, remain unclear. Could it be that the Dodge brand in Canada will sell a minivan not sold in the U.S.? There’s precedent here. For instance, Dodge in the U.S. has stopped selling the Avenger sedan – a clone of the Chrysler 200 – but the Avenger remains on sale in Canada, advertised for as low as $16,245 on the company’s website.

One way or another, then, Chrysler will offer Canadians an affordable minivan deep into a fourth decade.

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