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(13:21 March 01, 2004)
CEO Zetsche says Chrysler minivans will retain look


By RICK KRANZ | Automotive News

Chrysler group minivans will receive extensive sheet metal and interior design changes in about two years but will not stray from the minivan look, says Chrysler group CEO Dieter Zetsche.

"We do not intend to create a buzz by pretending that a minivan is a sports car, an SUV or whatever," says Zetsche, in an apparent reference to General Motors' minivan strategy.

GM's 2005 Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac SV6 and Saturn Relay will feature a tall grille and high hood line. The changes represent an effort to give each vehicle the appearance of an SUV. GM calls these vehicles "crossover sport vans" instead of minivans.

But Chrysler, which invented the segment two decades ago, will continue to call its minivans minivans.

"We believe a minivan is an excellent, flexible package for certain" buyers, Zetsche said. "There is nothing wrong" with styling that says this is a minivan.

This spring, the Chrysler group is making major changes to its minivans that are much more substantial than changes typically made in the middle of a vehicle's life cycle. On the long-wheelbase models, the automaker has re-engineered the platform extensively.

An estimated $400 million was spent to modify the Windsor, Ontario, assembly plant and the vehicles' platform to accommodate Chrysler's "Stow 'n Go" seat and storage system. Seats in the second and third row can be folded flat into the floor. The Chrysler group is the only automaker to offer this feature in both the second and third rows.

To create the Stow 'n Go feature, Chrysler had to modify the rear suspension and relocate cross beams, the gasoline tank and spare tire. The new seats will be standard on long-wheelbase versions of the Chrysler Town and Country and some Dodge Grand Caravan models.

Chrysler's current generation of minivans was launched in 2001. The Chrysler group's decision to re-engineer the minivan platform extensively for the 2005 model year reflects its urgency to regain momentum.

Last year, combined U.S. sales of Chrysler group minivans were 374,494 units, an 8.4 percent drop from the previous year. In 1999, the Chrysler group sold 503,830 minivans in the United States.

Zetsche said the costs for the plant and platform modifications will be recovered on the 2005 models and on the models that feature the new exterior and interior styling debuting later this decade.

"We did not change the timing (for the next generation minivans) after we decided to do Stow 'n Go," Zetsche said. "We know that the investment in the Stow 'n Go will not be lost when we go with the next generation minivan."

Staff Reporter Mary Connelly contributed to this report



 
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