On May 22, 2020, Fiat Chrysler will cease production of its Dodge Grand Caravan minivan. The Grand Caravan first made its appearance 35 years ago, in 1985.
In some states, the car will be available through the end of the 2020 model year, but not in states having more stringent emissions rules. States, where the Grand Caravan won't be available, are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
The minivan defined a generation. During the 1990s and early 2000s, it was emblematic of suburban America, along with the soccer moms who drove them. In Great Britain, minivans are called multi-purpose vehicles, people carriers, or people movers. Today, the minivan has been replaced by SUVs, such as the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The history of the minivan
What defined a minivan was its third-row seating, sliding doors, large storage area, flat floor, and seats that fold down. The first minivan was the American 1936 Stout Scarab, whose passenger seats were movable, and which had a centrally-mounted door.
Manufactured between 1949 and 1962, the German DKW Schnellaster featured a flat floor, front-wheel drive, a transverse engine, and multi-configurable seating.
In 1950, Volkswagen premiered its Type 2, which bolted a bus-style body onto a Volkswagen Beetle chassis. The car had a sliding side door, three rows of seats, and a top-hinged tailgate/liftgate.
In the late 1970s, Chrysler began developing a small van that would handle like a car and would be six-feet-tall or less in order to fit into a typical garage. In 1984, Chrysler brought out the Plymouth Voyager and the Dodge Caravan, which had front-wheel drive, a flat floor, and a sliding door for rear passengers.
In response to the Voyager/Caravan's instant popularity, in 1985, General Motors released the Chevrolet Astro and the GMC Safari, and Ford released its Aerostar in 1986. Unlike the Chrysler minivans, the GM and Ford minivans had rear-wheel drive. Ford replaced the Aerostar with the front-wheel-drive Mercury Villager in 1993, and the Ford Windstar in 1995.
Sales of minivans reached their pinnacle in 2000 when 1.4 million were sold, but by 2006, Ford had ceased production of minivans, and General Motors followed suit in 2009. Since then, sales of minivans have been steadily falling, and between 2018 and 2019, sales dropped by 15%.
In 2019, sales of minivans made up only 2.4% of new-car sales, while in 2000, they had made up 7.2%.
The Grand Caravan
The Grand Caravan went through five generations, the last being in 2008. It was Fiat Chrysler's best-selling minivan, having sold over 300,000 cars in 1996. In 2019, it sold 122,000 units in the U.S.
The end of the Grand Caravan will be strongly felt at the Windsor Assembly Plant in Windsor, Ontario, Canada where the Pacifica, Voyager and Grand Caravan are built. The plant will lay off 1,500 workers and Fiat Chrysler told Fox Business that "The Company will make every effort to place indefinitely laid off hourly employees in open full-time positions as they become available based on seniority and will offer retirement packages to eligible employees."
A second life for minivans
In a 2018 New York Times article, Google spinoff Waymo announced that it would buy up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacificas to be used for its ride-hailing service.
Currently, residents within a 100-square-mile area around Phoenix, Arizona are using Waymo's autonomous minivans to take short trips. Waymo announced today that they have raised $2.25 billion in outside investment toward building their self-driving technology.