Chrysler LLC Celebrates 25th Anniversary of the Minivan

  • Chrysler invented the minivan segment in 1983

  • Since then, Chrysler has sold more than 12 million minivans worldwide

  • Chrysler and Dodge minivans still command more than 40 percent of the U.S. minivan market

  • The Company leads in innovation with more than 65 minivan-first features

  • Chrysler minivans are the most awarded with more than 260 accolades

The year was 1983. Ronald Reagan
was President of the United States of America. Lech Walesa was the
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The Internet was created, and the first
mobile phones were introduced to the public. U.S. astronauts completed
the first space shuttle spacewalk; Michael Jackson performed the
“moonwalk.” The Baltimore Orioles won the World Series…and Chrysler
hit a home run with the introduction of the first minivan.

The Chrysler Corporation (as it was known then) was first to market
with the minivan in 1983. However, the development of the minivan began
even earlier than that, in 1977, as a response to new customer needs
identified in the marketplace.

In the late 1970s, U.S. “baby boomers” were starting families in
large numbers and were looking for an economical alternative to
automotive transportation. Traditional sedans and wagons continued to
get smaller due to pollution and fuel economy concerns, and full-sized
vans were being customized as passenger vehicles–but the combination of
poor ride comfort, large size and rear-wheel-drive design did not make
them ideal for family hauling. Chrysler designers and engineers
understood the shortcomings of the full-sized van and began early
development studies on a vehicle that would fulfill the needs of new
families. Chrysler pinpointed a potential vehicle market that needed to
deliver a few simple premises: fuel-efficient, easy to step into,
family friendly and smaller than the Dodge Ram Van.

After numerous concepts and proposals, Chrysler product planners
unanimously agreed on a platform theme that utilized a flat-load floor
with the entire powertrain in front of the passenger compartment.
Utilizing a front-engine, front-wheel-drive chassis design, Chrysler
engineers created a platform with chair-high command-of-the-road
seating that provided easy entry and exit. A rear-wheel-drive chassis
design would have required a taller floor design, or a center-raised
tunnel traveling the length of the vehicle to provide drivetrain
clearance. Chrysler engineers also determined that a rear-wheel-drive
design would require owners to climb up into the vehicle, rather than
conveniently step into it.

With the new family vehicle design theme locked into a
front-wheel-drive layout, Chrysler’s new “magic wagon” program faced
uncertainty with tough U.S. economic conditions. It was not until the
federal Chrysler Loan Guarantee Board approved $1.5 billion (U.S.) for
future product programs in 1980 that Chrysler had the funding to move

With new capital to invest, and an economical program budget of $660
million, all bets were on the production of the magic wagon. The
program was a “go,” receiving its official internal chassis program
designation of “T-115.” Chairman Lee A. Iacocca and soon-to-be
President Harold “Hal” K. Sperlich quickly led development of the magic
wagon–a “mini-van”–along with a revamping of the Windsor Assembly Plant
in Ontario, Canada, to produce the upcoming family hauler.

On November 2, 1983, the first minivan rolled down the assembly line
in Windsor. These 1984 model-year Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager
models quickly appeared in dealerships throughout the U.S. alongside
the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant K-cars. Chrysler’s limited
technical and financial resources forced the Company to focus its
marketing and support efforts on K-cars, but Dodge and Plymouth
minivans were the products ultimately attracting consumers into

The launch of the minivan in 1983 created an all-new product
segment. Observed top U.S. automotive magazine Road & Track,
“Chrysler is betting there’s a big market for a van of this size and is
aiming it at current station wagon owners; those who already own
larger, less efficient club wagons; growing families; those who need
station wagons but hate the stodgy suburban image; women who aren’t
comfortable driving large conventional vans; people who used to own
full-sized sedans and like plenty of interior room, and those who just
enjoy the sheer novelty of the vehicle.”

The Company’s bet was well placed. Chrysler’s minivans were an instant success.

As the minivan became a cultural icon throughout North America in
the 1980s, its introduction to the international markets helped
establish and solidify the Chrysler brand worldwide. It was in 1987
that Chrysler’s new minivan, also known as the MPV, or multi-purpose
vehicle, began sales in Europe.

Diesel-powered minivans were introduced in 1993, aimed at further
strengthening the presence of Chrysler minivans in Europe. In 1996, the
Company offered right-hand-drive versions, opening up sales
opportunities in markets such as the UK, Japan, Australia and South

In keeping with the original premise of fuel efficiency, a new world
record for fuel economy was set in 2000 by a Chrysler Voyager SE
powered by its available 2.5-liter common-rail turbo diesel (CRD)
engine. The Voyager traveled 1,724 kilometers (1,077 miles) on a single
tank of diesel fuel – a first for a minivan.

The newest fifth-generation minivans–Chrysler Town & Country,
Chrysler Grand Voyager and Dodge Grand Caravan–encapsulate more than 65
minivan-first features and more than 25 years of development in minivan
leadership. As the leader in family transportation, Chrysler and Dodge
minivans take the “family room on wheels” concept to a new level.

The legacy of innovation will continue to be a priority for Chrysler
and Dodge minivans going forward. With more than 12 million minivans
sold worldwide and over 260 awards–including 2008 “Minivan of the Year”
and “International Truck of the Year” by the International Car of the
Year organization–Chrysler and Dodge minivans are continuing to make

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