Don't write off the Dodge Grand Caravan just yet

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Mark Twain once famously said: "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

According to Chrysler Group, so too have the reports of the death of the Dodge Grand Caravan minivan.

A Bloomberg story last week, which appeared Saturday on autonews.com, quoted a source from Polk who said that 2012 would be the last model year for the venerable old Dodge people mover. The assertion was made despite Chrysler's 2009 product plan that has the Grand Caravan -- and its Chrysler Town & Country minivan line mate -- remaining in service through 2014.

In a statement to Automotive News, Chrysler says it "hasn't wavered from its five-year cycle plan for two minivans. It doesn't call for a change until 2014 and includes both Grand Caravan and Town & Country."

And speaking in downtown Detroit last week, Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne was clear that the automaker's next minivan would ride on a new platform in 2014, as planned.

Asked during a conference call with analysts last month about development spending on the next minivan, Marchionne responded: "The minivan is an issue that we're examining right now, but most of it will be done in 2013."

But clearly, something's going on in Chrysler's product planning office involving the automaker's people movers.

At the Detroit auto show in January, Chrysler quietly displayed a minivan concept, which it called the 700C, to gauge public reaction to the styling, Marchionne said. Asked then about his minivan plan, the enigmatic CEO simply said: "We need a new one."

And one might be the operative number.

When Chrysler had many single-brand dealerships, having twin minivans meant the automaker could put one of its signature products on almost every lot. But now that the great majority of Chrysler dealers carry all of its traditional brands, developing two very similar minivans at different price points -- the Dodge sells for less than $30,000, the Chrysler for more than $30,000 -- lined up next to one another on the same dealer lot makes little sense.

According to Polk data, about two-thirds of Grand Caravan registrations in the United States are fleet sales, while about two-thirds of registrations for the Town & Country are retail sales.

Letting the two minivans live through 2014 until a single proper replacement is developed probably makes sense.

But then, as Twain also noted: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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