RICK KRANZ

Are Routan’s days numbered as VW’s 7-passenger vehicle?

To distinguish the Routan from Chrysler’s offerings, VW made an effort to visually differentiate its minivan.
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

Volkswagen Group of America needs a seven-passenger vehicle in its line, but whether a next-generation minivan will be developed is uncertain.

The Routan is VW’s minivan and its only seven-passenger vehicle. But sales haven’t come close to the projections, raising questions about its future.

The vehicle is assembled by Chrysler for VW at its Windsor, Ontario, assembly plant. The Routan is built on the same platform as the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan.

To distinguish the Routan from Chrysler’s offerings, VW made an effort to visually differentiate its minivan. The Routan has unique front sheet metal and a VW-styled grille. The interior, including the instrument panel, was designed specifically for the Routan. You won’t see this instrument panel in a Chrysler or Dodge.

But one area Routan gets shortchanged is the rear seats. Chrysler opted not to let VW share its Stow ‘n Go seats, seats that easily retract into the floor. For some buyers, that probably was a deal breaker.

When Routan debuted in 2008, VW executives were optimistic, talking about 45,000 units annually. The best year was 2010 when 15,961 vehicles were sold. Through August of this year, 9,254 vehicles were sold -- an 18 percent decrease from the same period last year.

But do the sales numbers foreshadow the end of the minivan? VW hints maybe, but quickly adds a decision has not been made about whether a next-generation minivan will be developed.

During a conversation a few weeks ago, a VW executive said a seven-passenger vehicle is mandatory for the automaker’s U.S. product line. The reason? VW wants to attract more families to the brand. He suggested there might be a better solution than a minivan, presumably a seven-passenger crossover. He didn’t get more specific.

But the clock is ticking. Chrysler will introduce a redesigned minivan in 2014, meaning the current generation Routan will go out of production around that time frame.

In my opinion, one thing is certain as VW studies a seven-passenger replacement: VW won’t be knocking on Chrysler’s door.

One need only recall an ego-laced war of words earlier this year about Alfa Romeo between VW AG Chairman Ferdinand Piech, who wanted to buy the brand from Fiat, and Fiat-Chrysler head Sergio Marchionne.

"As long as I am CEO of Chrysler and Fiat, Mr. Piech will never have Alfa Romeo,” Marchionne said in February.

With words like that said publicly, I doubt Mr. Piech will ask Mr. Marchionne to build his next U.S. seven-seater.

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