The minivan concept is enjoying something of a renaissance, led by innovative new models from Japanese players. DaimlerChrysler is now successfully fighting back by equipping its minivan range with the ‘Stow n Go’ system, which suggests that this mature segment requires products with a more radical and stylish appeal if it is to continue regaining ground from SUVs.

DaimlerChrysler has announced plans to invest $US113 million at its St. Louis (Missouri) South Assembly Plant to increase production of its Chrysler and Dodge minivans fitted with the ‘Stow n Go’ seating and storage system. According to the company, the system allows second and third row seats to be folded flat into the floor, and offers in-floor storage when the seats are upright. ‘Stow n Go’ will be a standard feature on the 2005 redesigned Chrysler Town & Country LX, Touring and Limited, and the 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT vehicles.

Minivans with the ‘Stow n Go’ system, which went into production at Chrysler’s assembly plant in Windsor, Canada earlier this year, are now representing over 70% of the manufacturer’s entire 2005 model orders.

As orders keep increasing, DaimlerChrysler is aiming to remain competitive in a segment where innovative seating has become a key factor. In 2000, minivans sold a record of 1.4 million units. Since then sales had been decreasing as they were overtaken by the more avant-garde SUVs. At present, improvements on new or redesigned minivan models are necessary to regain sales in the mature minivan segment. Unsurprisingly, Japanese manufacturers are leading the way back with models such as Honda’s latest Odyssey variant and Toyota’s Sienna LE.

By giving additional features such as ‘Stow n Go’, in keeping with consumers’ desire for modern and fashionable vehicles, to its Chrysler and Dodge minivans, DaimlerChrysler’s attention to detail has paid off. This new investment shows that US manufacturers are trying to regain the segment they initially pioneered. When Chrysler invented the minivan in 1983, the manufacturer struggled to retain consumer interest in those vehicles. Today Chrysler is betting on the ‘Stow n Go’ system, which it developed and patented for $221 million. If Chrysler sells its 2005 models at a reasonable price, the extended production is likely to be required to satisfy demand.