2008 Dodge Grand Caravan

Unlike its competitors at General Motors and Ford, the Chrysler Group has no plans to exit the minivan market. The segment is basically stable, the company says, representing about one million units of sales annually and Chrysler has been the sales leader for 23 consecutive years.

Thus, DaimlerChrysler is preparing to debut the fifth-generation minivan, with appropriate fanfare at the North American International Auto Show as part of the buildup for the launch of the 2008 vans next fall.

Chrysler, however, has made a serious effort to meet some of the bland stereotypes that have kept a lot of buyers out of the segment over the years.   

Ralph Gilles, the designer of the Chrysler 300 and one of the company's top young designers, volunteered to work on the fifth-generation van and the result is an exterior with a bolder front, better definition at the corners of and muscular side sides that combine to give the vehicle more character. At the same time, the subtle turn toward aggressive makes the next generation Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan also more protective at the same time, Chrysler says. 

The interior of the new vans also promise to ring some bells with a lot of minivan buyers with unique features such as a collapsible table that turns the rear of the van into an RV or a rolling family room.

The second-row-seats can turn to face the rear of the vehicle and a small pole and plastic table top can be pulled from a storage bin inside the van to create a surface for enjoying a meal or playing a game or doing homework. Chrysler also has added pinpoint LED lighting at strategic points in the rear so the table also can be used while traveling at night. 

The addition of the table and swivel seats adds a whole new dimension to the interior of the van and is almost certain to draw some keen interest from the carpool set. The table is not as revolutionary perhaps as Chrysler's Stow 'N Go seats, which seemed to catch Chrysler domestic and Japanese competitors flat-footed, but it will definitely create some buzz in a segment that could use some spicing up.

George Murphy, senior vice president of Chrysler Group marketing, says in all there are 35 new or improved features on the 2008 minivans, which will be offered an array of five different models with three distinctive  seat and storage arrays and three different powertrains, including the first six-speed transaxle in the segment. 

The safety equipment includes an all-row supplemental side-curtain airbag, electronic stability control with traction control and brake assist, child seat anchors, and back-up cameras as well. In addition, there are separate DVD systems for second- and third-row seats. Storage and power outlets are also built in at strategic points throughout the interior. 

Chrysler says it's preparing to better market one of the minivans' hidden assets - flex-fuel capability. The flex-fuel capability, which means the vans can run on ethanol as well as gasoline, will be standard on the 2008 vans.


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