When
you’re building the same vehicle simultaneously in three plants in St. Louis,
Missouri; Windsor, Ontario; and Graz, Austria, just how do you tell which one
is the nine millionth example of the genre?

Chrysler reckons it can and, amid claims it invented the minivan 18 years ago
(Renault, createur d’Espace, says otherwise), today celebrated the build
of its nine millionth example at Graz.

Hundreds of employees cheered as the celebration silver Chrysler Voyager drove
off of the line.

Not surprisingly, a gushing Chrysler forgot to mention in its announcement
recent minivan woes – last year’s overbuild of run-out models that
required massive incentives to shift from surplus inventory and the success
of the rival North American-built Honda Odyssey come immediately to mind.

"We sell nearly 600,000 minivans a year in more than 70 countries throughout
the world," said executive vice president, advance manufacturing and general
manager of minivan operations Frank Ewasyshyn, who was at the Windsor assembly
plant when the first minivan was built.

The
Chrysler Voyager

"The minivan market continues to be vibrant. Just last year, the segment
climbed to an all-time high of more than 2 million sales worldwide.”

What he didn’t say was that an increasing proportion of those are rivals’ products.

Instead he said: “Our minivans continue to answer the call for utility,
convenience and style."

With three minivan assembly plants, Chrysler Group has the capacity to build
nearly 2,766 minivans every day, which translates into more than 115 per hour,
or nearly two per minute.

Introduced in November of 1983 at the Windsor assembly plant, the segment-creating
minivan would go on to replace the station wagon, put the family room on wheels,
spark the cup holder revolution and forever change the landscape of the world’s
highways and driveways.

Chrysler Group’s original formula for the minivan was simple: a garageable
van, designed from the inside out, that offered easy entry and exit, chair-height
seating, second seat access, low flat floor, removable seats and front-wheel
drive.

Chrysler claimed minivan "firsts" include a driver-side sliding door,
driver and passenger air bags (initially fiercely resisted by then-supremo Lee
Iaccoca), integrated child safety seats, reclining child safety seats, grocery
bag hooks, cab-forward design which allowed for more space, power up and down
liftgate, removable power centre console, pop-up rear cargo organiser and three-zone
automatic temperature control.

Chrysler was also first to offer the world’s only electric-powered minivan.

Apparently sensitive to suggestions rivals are chomping huge chunks out of
its once-exclusive slice of the minivan market, the company says: “Even
with more than 15 competitive nameplates from which to choose in the United
States, Dodge and Chrysler continue to command more than 35 percent of the minivan
segment.”

Industry-wide, minivans account for nearly seven percent of all new vehicles
sold in North America, Chrysler says.


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