Volkswagen’s Routan Versus the Microbus

Behold the latest minivan entering the fray and consider what might have been

Blake Muntzinger

02.07.2008


Volkswagen revealed its latest North American offering, the Routan, at the Chicago Auto Show. If this seven-passenger minivan looks familiar, that is because the Routan is built with Chrysler’s minivans in Windsor, Ontario. “Routan” , while slightly odd, carries special meaning for Volkswagen; the word “route” is combined with the suffix “an”, used on its European people movers – the Sharan and Touran.

The Routan, clearly, is a family vehicle, and no 21st-century minivan is complete without a rear-seat entertainment system. Two 9-inch screens are available for second and third row passengers, along with wireless headsets and a remote control. A total of 13 cupholders guarantees that no one will be thirsty. Other features include a power lift gate with a flood lamp, power dual sliding doors with power windows, and touch screen navigation with 20GB hard drive (aka MyGIG) – all carryovers from Chrysler.

The Routan is standard with a 3.8 liter V6, producing 197 hp – the same engine found in the Chrysler Town & Country Touring. A 251 hp, 4.0 liter V6 will also be available; both are mated with a six-speed automatic transmission. Traction control and ESP are standard.

Volkswagen designers did an excellent job masking this van’s roots with completely different front and rear fascias. The front ensures the Routan will fit in with the rest of Volkswagen’s lineup with Eos-like headlamps and VW chrome grille, while the rear is simple with Rabbit-style tail lamps. The overall package is pleasant, and the ¾ front view makes the Routan look very similar to the Honda Odyssey.

Inside, Chrysler’s radio, steering wheel, and HVAC controls remain, but the Routan’s interior benefits from more aluminum accents and redesigned the center dash vents, drastically reducing the Town & Country’s boxy look. This interior should, at the very least, have Chrysler designers asking themselves, “Why didn’t we do that?”

The Routan will enter battle with the traditional heavyweights – Honda’s Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna, and Chrysler’s minivans, of course – this fall. Volkswagen has not announced a firm price for the Routan, but it will start under $25,000.

All well and good, right? Sure, VW got a new minivan on the cheap by sharing an existing van with Chrysler. What’s not to like?

Well, I came prepared for this question. Here is the answer.




This is the stunning Microbus concept VW showed off a few years ago, and this is what we could have had instead of the current minivan meal being served using Chrysler leftovers.

The Routan is not a bad-looking minivan, and in fact, looks better than the Chrysler it uses as its base, but it sure looks weak in the design department next to what was supposed to be the next Microbus. To me, this looks like its got “style icon” written all over it, and also looks like something that a lot of people would be willing to pay full sticker for in the first few years of production. The Routan does not invoke the same sentiment as far as I’m concerned.

I think the boys in Wolfsburg were penny-wise and pound-foolish on this one.

Brendan Moore also contributed to this article.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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6 Comments

  1. VW used to set themselves apart, now they are not just copying the other manufacturers, they are using their leftover parts. That Microbus concept would sell well in the United States, I know it. The Routan offers nothing new and the same old boring minivan design.

  2. But if the Concept costs too much to make, and then demand drops off after a few years (like the retro Beetle), then what is the point? VW is getting killed on the exchange rate now! It’s safer from a business perspective to do this. Consumers are fickle and minvan consumers like boring.

  3. VW has these astoundingly high sales goals worldwide that they’re trying to make in the next 5-10 years and I’m hoping they’re not planning on getting to those goals by doing what Toyota does. That is, put out boring-looking cars. Although, they really could use some of Toyota’s excellent quality because their quality kind of sucks. Maybe we’ll get Toyota looks and VW quality. That will be a potent 1-2 punch in the consumer marketplace.

  4. Of course we all like the Microbus Concept better, but it’s just a concept. I’m sure it’s very expensive to build.

  5. Compared to what could have been, this is really, really sad….

  6. You said it, Vince. VW has dumbed down their people-mover vehicle to the lowest common denominator. It’s just the same as the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna, and of course, the Chrysler Town and COuntry, which is is, under the different clothing.

    And Vince, also, great head shot.

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