|Diana T. Kurylko covers various U.S. import brands for Automotive News.|
Volkswagen of America finally decided to do away with the slow-selling Routan minivan and will phase it out this year.
What took so long?
It’s a rebadged Chrysler minivan with a Chrysler engine and it costs more: Its base price is $27,840 vs. $20,990 for the base Dodge Grand Caravan. Prices include shipping.
VW says its dealers were clamoring for a seven-passenger vehicle. The company that’s vying to be the world’s biggest automaker decided against sending vehicles it sells in Europe -- such as the Sharan or the Transporter -- to the United States and decided against reviving the popular Microbus.
Enter the Routan.
VWs have appeal in the United States because they handle like German vehicles. They hug the road better, provide more feedback to the driver, stop faster and handle better than comparable Japanese and domestic models. It’s why people buy VWs.
The Routan, on the other hand, is a big, bloated Chrysler Group product.
It’s the brainchild of former VW brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard. Bernhard was Chrysler group COO when Daimler AG owned the company, and he masterminded another not-so-successful car: the Crossfire sports car.
The Crossfire, which contained many parts from the previous-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster, went on sale in 2003 and only lasted through 2007.
Sales were so slow that Chrysler worked out a deal with overstock.com, a discount Internet shopping site, to sell the car for $8,900 less than its sticker price.
When Bernhard announced the deal to rebadge a Chrysler minivan for VW, he promised the vehicle would be different from the Chrysler group version.
"It isn't just going to be a Chrysler minivan [with] a Volkswagen badge on it," he said. "It will be completely different. The touch, feel and functionality of the interior will be Volkswagen."
Brooke Shields was hired to help pitch the minivan.
Bernhard was ousted from his VW job in 2007 after only two years. The Routan went on sale in 2008.
Chrysler hasn’t built a Routan for VW since July 2012.
VW will probably build a mid-sized SUV at its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., that is better suited for the brand and its buyers.
Until then, it’s a good thing the remaining Routans will be corporate cars for VW.