DETROIT - General Motors is counting on child's play to boost its Chevrolet Venture minivan.
The automaker will equip its 2000 Warner Bros.-edition minivan with a backseat play center featuring Lego products, the popular child's toys. The move is designed to complement the vehicle's focus on the family market.
Under terms of the deal between Chevrolet and supplier Johnson Controls' Automotive Systems Group, the Lego PlaySeat will be available exclusively in the Warner Bros. edition for 12 months worldwide and another six months for North America.
The specially equipped model was unveiled Jan. 9 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Chevrolet's Lego-equipped Venture is part of an increasing trend toward entertainment aimed at young families. Last year, Ford Motor Co. introduced a $1,499 Visteon-supplied rear-seat entertainment system, with a Nintendo 64 game player hooked up to a 1999 Mercury Villager minivan.
Analyst David Stricker said he expects to see many more vehicles configured to meet niche product needs. 'It's not a major issue or a technical issue; it's a small, easy way to make a vehicle more attractive to consumers,' said Strickler, of First Union Securities of Charlotte, N.C.
Dan Keller, brand manager for the Venture, said he is counting on a number of family-friendly features to sell 20,000 Warner Bros.-edition Ventures. 'Our customers have busy families and can use all the built-in conveniences available,' he said.
Keller also is counting on safety to woo customers. 'Happy children make happy parents because they are not constantly distracted,' he said. 'So they can then have a safer driving experience.'
The Lego seat includes a large play surface with two tray tables that extend for writing or playing. It then folds up and into its internal storage compartment, providing a built-in toy box.
Last year, Chevrolet introduced an integrated child passenger safety seat as standard equipment in all 1999 LS, LT and Warner Bros.-edition models. The PlaySeat is designed to fit in that seat formation, which is part of the second row on the passenger side.
Keller said he began working with Johnson Controls' Automotive Systems Group on the Lego concept when the Plymouth, Mich., automotive interiors supplier unveiled a prototype at the Detroit auto show two years ago.