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Chrysler Will Seek to Recapture the Minivan Crown

RMAutoBuzz

The Chrysler Town & Country introduced U.S. buyers to the idea of the minivan, a people-mover with seating for at least seven that is designed to make the best use of all available space while also being extremely safe. The idea was quickly copied by American and Japanese competitors, and although minivans have lost much of their popularity in recent years, they still represent a significant total number of annual sales.

Today’s Town & Country still sees some sales, but other offerings like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey have fared much better. Featuring standard leather interior and many premium features as standard equipment, Chrysler’s minivan is a bit more expensive than other entries in the segment at $29,995 to start. Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) also offers the much cheaper Dodge Grand Caravan, which is built on the same bones as the Chrysler but does without its more-luxurious features.

The next Town & Country, due in showrooms in mid-2016 as a 2017 model, will be priced much lower. FCA will do away with the Dodge variant, pricing the Chrysler around $3,000 lower to be more competitive. The lowest-priced minivan available today is the 2015 Kia Sedona, which starts at $26,100. That will mean relegating some premium features to the option sheet, but Chrysler’s latest is still expected to impress.

Design

Spy photographers have captured test mules wearing heavy camouflage and an odd mix of Dodge and Chrysler parts cobbled together haphazardly. Clearly visible, though, is a new independent rear suspension that should improve handling while offering better interior packaging. The current Town & Country uses a solid rear axle, forcing the floorpan and interior to sit higher. Switching to an independent setup will allow Chrysler to make the minivan lower and sleeker, improving efficiency while retaining its signature fold-flat “Stow-n-Go” second-row seat.

The minivan looks to be a bit longer and wider than before. Chrysler will position it to offer much better total seating and cargo area than three-row crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse. New Dodge and Chrysler large crossovers will be hitting the market around the same time, which could mean competition for the same buyers: those with large families who want safe and spacious vehicle.

Powertrains

Chrysler will be the first to market with a hybrid minivan when it brings a gas-electric Town & Country to market at the same time as the traditional gasoline version. This could be a strong selling point if gas prices go back up to more recent levels of $4 to $5 per gallon. Offering fuel efficiency in excess of 30 combined mpg with an all-electric driving mode would help the company stand out in a field with several fine entries competing for a relatively small number of total buyers.The gasoline version will likely get a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine or FCA’s often-used 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6, paired with the company’s new 9-speed automatic transmission.

Takeaway

Look for the 2017 Chrysler Town & Country in showrooms by Summer 2016 as Chrysler seeks to take back the top sales spot among minivans while courting crossover SUV buyers with its fuel-efficient hybrid model.

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