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Once Upon a Time There Were No Minivans

Updated September 20, 2015

Before there were minivans

When station wagons ruled the land

 

Believe it or not, there was a time when there were no mini-vans. Yes, hard to believe.  Before the 1980s, standard sedans and station wagons were the vehicles that families used to tote the kids around.  Businesses, because of their need to move big, heavy things, generally relied on larger trucks and “cargo vans” for transportation.  Then, in the early 1980s, Chrysler changed everything.

minivans

Well, technically the story starts in the late 1970s because back then things weren’t going so well for Chrysler Corporation. Decades of haphazard product quality, design miscues and poor leadership had left Chrysler close to shutting down. Sales were terrible and the company was running out of cash. The board of directors of Chrysler desperately needed a savior and looked far and wide to find one.

Fortunately, for Chrysler, Lee Iacocca was available.  Iacocca had recently left Ford and the board of directors at Chrysler quickly asked him to take over the helm of their company.  Luckily Chrysler had just finished the design of their new K car models, the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, both with front wheel drive.  Although the company was in financial trouble, a great deal of R&D on their new front wheel drive systems had just been finished, the cars designed, and the company simply needed additional cash flow to get these new models into production.  Iaccoca with his deep automotive industry experience made this happen.

But Iaccoca knew they needed more than just these new models to make Chrysler really healthy again.  They needed something special.  Working with his design engineers, Iacocca supported the unusual idea of “car-like van”.  It seemed like a great concept but he knew there was no budget or time to design a powertrain for this new kind of vehicle.  The only option was to use their existing front-wheel drive K-car powertrain technology and adapt it to this new “minivan”. At the time, many Chrysler executives and analysts did not think this was a very good idea.

But it turned out it was a very good one.  This new minivan was perfect for families because it had lots of interior room and offered superior gas mileage. And for Chrysler, it could be built a lot cheaper than standard Cargo Vans could.  Chrysler went into full production in 1985. According to Central Avenue Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Yonkers, NY, the results were remarkable. During its first year of sales, Chrysler sold a stunning 209,895 minivans under the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager brand names.

With numbers like this, others in the automobile industry took notice and soon thereafter General motors responded with scaled down conventional vans, the Astro and Safari, and Ford countered with the Aerostar.  However, both of these vans were based on heavy rear wheel drive truck components and did not offer the advantages of the Chrysler minivans. The result was that they failed to capture anywhere near the sales of the Chrysler vehicles. Basically, Chrysler had not only first mover advantage but a better product.

Today almost every manufacturer has a mini-van to offer but none can say they have been building them as long as Chrysler has.  If you live in the XXXX area, visit CHRYSLER DEALER BRAND LINK to see what 30 years of being in the minivan business has produced.  Tell’em you want to see the vehicle that years ago changed the car industry.

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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