As Fiat Chrysler ramps up production of the new Chrysler Voyager minivan this year, the automaker is betting that it will retain longtime buyers of the entry-level Dodge Grand Caravan.
FCA has not announced Canadian pricing for the Voyager, but in the United States, pricing will fall in line with that of the outgoing Grand Caravan. Including destination fees, the Voyager will start at US $28,480, slightly cheaper than the Grand Caravan’s US $28,535 starting price.
“They [FCA] had to backfill that gap,” said Joe McCabe, president of AutoForecast Solutions LLC. “The Grand Caravan has been a very good product for them. It fits a specific consumer at a good price point, and Pacifica was viewed as a much higher-priced, higher-technology minivan. The risk is to walk away from that, that may turn minivan consumers to look to non-Chrysler brands for their next minivan.”
In June, FCA unveiled the Voyager, a minivan targeted at budget-conscious families. It covers the lowest trim levels on the Chrysler Pacifica, and is expected to replace the Grand Caravan, which will cease production May 22, 2020, according to AutoForecast Solutions, a U.S.-based global forecasting and consulting firm.
Voyager production was expected to begin at FCA’s Windsor, Ont., minivan plant in August, alongside the Grand Caravan and Pacifica. The automaker said it would start selling the Voyager in the United States in the fall, but it is not known when it would be available in Canada.
FCA has “not announced timing,” a company spokeswoman wrote in an email to Automotive News Canada.
But, it appears FCA is sticking with its two-minivan strategy, even as sales of minivans fall in both Canada and the United States with consumers gravitating toward crossovers. The carmaker has pursued a two-minivan strategy since the 1984 model year, when Chrysler created the modern minivan segment by launching the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager.
Industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers said FCA had little choice but to continue with its strategy. The automaker would have risked losing customers to competitors and significant amounts of money in retooling the Windsor, Ont., plant where the minivans are built, he said. The automaker spent about $1 billion on plant improvements.
“Did they really have a choice? That’s the first thought that comes to mind,” said DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont. “What other options did they have? It would cost a couple billion dollars to gut the plant and put something else in there, and a lot of time.”
Lou Ann Gosselin, an FCA Canada spokeswoman, declined to comment on the automaker’s minivan strategy. But AutoForecast’s McCabe said FCA stood to lose a lot if the automaker did not replace the vehicle.
“Traditionally, we see when a manufacturer changes product strategy or gets out of a product strategy, there’s about a 50-per-cent attrition,” he said. “The biggest risk we saw is that there’s a dedicated Grand Caravan buyer, and there’d be a good chance they could lose 50 per cent of that buyer.”
IS VOYAGER THE NEW CARAVAN?
Whether the automaker can capture Grand Caravan buyers with the new Voyager is an open question, and an important one for FCA. The Grand Caravan, which has not had a major redesign since 2008, accounted for about 88 per cent of FCA’s minivan sales in Canada in the first half of the year, while it made up about 60 per cent of FCA’s minivan sales in the United States.
Canadian consumers are generally more cost-conscious than American buyers, DesRosiers said, making the Voyager crucial to FCA in Canada. The Voyager, built on the Pacifica’s platform, is a safe bet for FCA, he said.
The Pacifica, in contrast, was a pricier, more technologically advanced minivan than others on the market.
“It’s a no-risk strategy in a segment that is in difficulty,” DesRosiers said. “A less risky strategy is probably wiser. The Pacifica was a high-risk strategy in that segment, and it hasn’t worked out that well. So they’re de-risking, which is a smart move on their part.”
In the United States, the 2020 Chrysler Voyager will be offered in two trim lines: L and LX. An LXi trim line will be offered to fleet customers. Canadian model designations are not yet known.