Possibly the Next Big Thing
As a transplanted American in France, I, admittedly, have suffered from an arguably slight case of culture shock ranging from dog “gifts” on the sidewalk to transportation strikes. However, the French (and European) voiture-buying public have been doing something for a while that makes sense, and it’s been successful: LAVs (or Leisure Activity Vehicles).
Oh yes. In a world of SUVs, MPVs, APVs, XUVs, and SUTs comes yet another acronym that will mean little to anyone outside an automaker’s marketing department. Nevertheless, these compact vans offer utility Americans find in most SUVs with compact car fuel economy. Interestingly enough, no LAVs are sold in the United States. Since Congress passed the CAFE bill, however, American automakers would be smart to give the LAV another look.
Take Renault’s Kangoo. Redesigned for 2008, it’s been on the market in France for just over 10 years. A hit with families and small businesses alike, the Kangoo allows easy access to the backseat with dual-siding doors. It’s plentiful windows make it a safe haven for the claustrophobic. Mazda offers the same setup with its Mazda5, but the Kangoo is 15.8 inches shorter and slightly taller than the 5. The Renault is 10.5 inches shorter than the Chevrolet’s HHR Panel vehicle, Kangoo’s closest light commercial rival.
Renault’s Kangoo is singled out because of a possible deal between Chrysler and Nissan. Chrysler, whose product lineup could use some shock therapy, could take advantage of Nissan’s relationship with Renault and ship the Kangoo to the States. Market it as a light duty Dodge truck, and it’s the spiritual replacement for the axed short wheelbase Caravan. Not to say the Kangoo is the complete solution for Chrysler, but it’s a start. (One word: Twingo.)
Chrysler isn’t the only company with the chance. General Motors could sell its Opel Combo Cargo as a Chevrolet. Its design would work well for small businesses in downtown areas across the country, especially as gas prices remain high. Ford had its Transit Connect headed for American shores until recently. An opportunity missed, but hopefully Ford will find a way to sell it in the US, even if it’s not right away.
If an American marque doesn’t do it, someone else will. Volkswagen, looking to increase worldwide sales, sells the Caddy and Caddy Maxi – vehicles with clean European designs that could win over families and businesses wanting something different and chic. Peugeot and Citroën have their respective sliding-door LAVs, the Partner and Berlingo. Maybe Fiat will re-enter the US market with its Doblò van. With Alfa Romeo mulling over a new North American plant, it’s possible, but not probable.
All of these options would be great for the consumer who doesn’t want an SUV or minivan but needs its versatility. It would be another great chance for an American automaker to take the lead in a domestic market segment instead of losing it to a foreign manufacturer.
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