Dealers are supporting a decision by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to move the Grand Caravan badge to a new minivan based on the Chrysler Pacifica.
As the aging platform underpinning the current Dodge Grand Caravan is retired, FCA has chosen to transfer more than three decades of brand equity instead of starting from scratch with another name.
“We’ve been an advocate for keeping the name . . . we’re very happy about that,” said Danny Diamantakos, dealer principal at Peel Fiat Chrysler near Toronto. “If you were to walk down the street and ask somebody if they’ve heard of a Chrysler Grand Caravan or a Dodge Grand Caravan, then their answer would be yes. Everybody knows about it.”
The Grand Caravan represents 20 per cent of the sales at Peel Fiat-Chrysler.
“[The current model is] a seven-passenger vehicle [with] lots of cargo space, and it’s priced right,” Diamantakos said. “It’s probably the best value in Canada, and it has always been like that.”
A GRAND BARGAIN
In July, FCA Canada announced that the Pacifica-based Chrysler Grand Caravan will be the budget-friendly model of its minivan line for the 2021 model year. It arrives as the 12-year run of the fifth-generation Dodge Grand Caravan comes to an end. Maintaining the name came amid consultations with the automaker’s dealer network, said Lou Ann Gosselin, FCA Canada spokeswoman.
The Pacifica and the Grand Caravan are built at FCA’s minivan plant in Windsor, Ont. Also made there is the Chrysler Voyager, a lowerpriced model based on the Pacifica for the U.S. market.
The Grand Caravan name is more popular in Canada where it has been the top-selling minivan over the last 29 years, based on statistics provided by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. It racked up 45.6 per cent of all minivan sales in 2019, while the Pacifica accounted for just six per cent, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit.
“We felt it was important to preserve the brand equity that we have built with the Grand Caravan nameplate over the last 36 years,” said Mike Szymkiewicz, FCA Canada’s senior manager of product strategy and volume planning.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for the base model of the new Chrysler Grand Caravan is $37,995, plus destination fee. It will also come in an SXT model with an MSRP of $39,995. Those prices are comparable to the SXT and Premium Plus models of the current Dodge Grand Caravan, which accounted for about 63 per cent of 2019 sales, Szymkiewicz said.
Gone is the Canada Value Package, the cheapest version of the Dodge Grand Caravan, which accounted for 20 per cent of sales in 2019. It has an MSRP of $32,845 plus the $1,895 destination charge — $5,150 less than the new Chrysler model, base price to base price — and has often sold for significantly less.
The consumer price for the new Chrysler version will likely be reduced once it arrives at dealerships, said Brian Murphy, vice-president of research and analytics at Canadian Black Book.
BUILDING ON BRAND EQUITY
Keeping the name Canadians recognize is a smart strategy, Murphy said. “I think the challenge will be for the salespeople to pitch the difference between the current product and the new Grand Caravan, which is on a completely new platform and does drive much nicer than its predecessor,” he said.
The name and still-competitive pricing will attract the budget-conscious buyers, said Brian Johnston, president of Johnston Auto Group, which has dealerships in Vernon and Kelowna, B.C.
“In terms of packages, I think there’s lots of flexibility with that vehicle. I think the bottom line is there are still families out there and companies who find great use for them.”
Pricing will be key, said Jim McManes, owner of McManes Auto Group, which has three Dodge-Chrysler dealerships in Calgary.
“There’s a market for it if they price it properly — and I’m sure they’re going to price it properly — but it’s certainly a diminished market,” McManes said, adding that the minivan segment is price sensitive.
“They have to be affordable.”
Canadian minivan sales peaked at 16.8 per cent of the market in 1999 and trailed off to 3.2 per cent in 2019 as buyers flocked to utility vehicles.
In a vote of confidence, the remaining competitors in the segment — Honda, Kia and Toyota — are introducing new or freshened models for 2021. Of note, the Toyota Sienna will be available only as hybrid.
The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica will have an updated interior and exterior and offer an all-wheel-drive version. The Chrysler Grand Caravan will have the same appearance as the 2020 Pacifica. FCA has yet to announce pricing for the restyled Pacifica. The Grand Caravan will arrive in the fourth quarter of this year as a 2021 model.