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Dueling Chrysler Plants to Lead New Minivan...

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Link: http://wardsauto.com/ar/auto_dueling_chrys...lants/index.htm

Dueling Chrysler Plants to Lead New Minivan Production

By Alisa Priddle

WardsAuto.com, Aug 24 2005

The next-generation family of minivans, codenamed RT, is due in 2007.


Assembly plants in Windsor, Ont., Canada, and St. Louis both will continue to build the next-generation minivan, but Chrysler Group has not yet decided which will take the lead, says Frank Klegon, who takes over as executive vice president-product development Sept. 1.

The next-generation family of minivans, codenamed RT, is due in 2007, designated as '08 models.

Klegon says he is not sure when the decision will be made.

Each facility has had a stint as the lead minivan plant, and each has led production of the long-wheelbase, high-trim-level Town & Country.

St. Louis has produced the Town & Country since its inception in 1990, through the generation known as NS.

But, in a surprise move, the auto maker gave Windsor the nod to make the high-line model with the debut of the current, all-new, RS platform for the '01 model year. (See related story: DCC Banks on Aggressive Minivan Launch)

Windsor currently makes about 3,800 units of the Chrysler Town & Country per week, compared with about 1,600 in St. Louis.

Both plants received the investment necessary to accommodate the advent of the Stow 'n Go seating system that folds the second and third rows of seats into the floor.

Chrysler invested $400 million in 2003 to re-engineer the '05 minivans and retool the Windsor plant to accommodate the extensive body modifications required for the innovative seating system. St. Louis was retooled later.

Officials said the RS ostensibly amounts to a new platform and will form the basis for the redesigned next-generation RT.

Using the RS underpinnings leaves engineers the freedom to concentrate on other innovations and an exterior design with a sky-view roof and more road presence.

The design themes for the new minivans, developed under Ralph Gilles, whose previous project was the Chrysler 300 sedan, are expected to be locked in later this year.

Both plants also have the flexibility to build the down-market Dodge Caravan.

While Windsor was deemed a quality leader when the decision was made to add production of the '04 Chrysler Pacifica to the line in January 2003, officials now say St. Louis is proving more productive.

The next-generation Pacifica is expected to migrate to the same platform as the RT minivan family.

A deciding factor could be Windsor's need of a new paint shop, an upgrade that has been held up as Chrysler awaits funding from the Canadian and Ontario governments. Discussions with the Ontario government reportedly have been concluded, but federal negotiations continue.

Tom LaSorda, the Windsor native who becomes Chrysler CEO Sept. 1, says the foot-dragging by the Canadian government, while substantially longer than the auto maker has experienced in dealings with various U.S. states, will not prove fatal.

The roughly 20-year-old paint shop “has a bit of life yet,” LaSorda says. “We could pour money into it.”

He notes a new paint shop is an 18-month to 2-year project.

When it comes time to launch the next-generation minivan, Chrysler cannot afford downtime because the products are selling well, Klegon says.

July sales of the Town & Country in the U.S. were up 87.4%, and are pacing up 47.6% through July, while most of its competitors have seen a decline – with the exception of the Honda Odyssey, up 15.2%

Year-to-date, Chrysler has a 38.3% share of the minivan market, up 4.9 points from year ago.

Employees at the Windsor plant have been told to expect Saturday overtime for the rest of the year, and that the mix of minivans to Pacificas will shift again in September. The plant currently builds four minivans for every Pacifica.

“The death of the minivan still is not here,” Klegon says. “People love them.”

Alternative people movers such as the Pacifica do not have the sliding doors that define a minivan, allowing large packages to be loaded. And folding seats make minivans functional, he says.

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Using the RS underpinnings leaves engineers the freedom to concentrate on other innovations and an exterior design with a sky-view roof and more road presence.

[post="3722"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


...I hope that these "other innovations" include higher quality powertrain components. But, somehow, I doubt it.
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...I hope that these "other innovations" include higher quality powertrain components. But, somehow, I doubt it.

[post="3764"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


exactly.
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Oh, but as if GM's current minivan powertrains (or minivans, period) are oh-so-state-of-the-art. At least Chrysler is using money to develop something interesting, and I don't see why there shouldn't be a more advance powertrain. Edited by S.Myers
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I predict a new V6 mated to a 5-speed automatic and the most revolutionary high quality interior on the market. Just like GM poured money to improve their GMT-900s - DCX will do the same to their minivans. When you own the segment - you can not afford to fall behind. GM was at risk of that with their GMT-800s like DCX was with their 2001 redesigned minivans. The Sto-N-Go seats managed to hold their ground while they do a full makeover - that is sure to be class leading. I predict they will debut at the 2007 NAIAS and go on sale shortly thereafter.
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Yeah, Chrysler's stow-n-go seating has cost quite a few sales, for sure. The van market is a little bigger north of the border so we are hoping the new GM vans (due in, what, 2008?) are a home run. The Uplander is a vast improvement over the Venture, but everyone is ahead of us now, except maybe the Freestar. (Does Ford still sell those?)
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I hope they really re-work those vans... I'm just glad GM is killing their minivans...that market is dying anyways...
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Is GM killing their minivans? I thought that there would be a new minivan based on the Lambda platform. My understanding is that Buick, Saturn and GMC would get crossovers while Chevy would get a traditional minivan based off of the same Lambda architecture. Is this correct?
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