Dodge Plans “Man Van” to Battle Toyota Sienna SE
By Chris Haak
Perhaps we’re on the cusp of a minivan revival. The vehicle most associated with soccer moms, and nerdy, utilitarian transportation will have nearly all new or refreshed offerings for the 2011 model year. Toyota’s 2011 Sienna has been on the road for a few months, and are sprouting up here and there. Honda just revealed its all-new 2011 Odyssey, and Chrysler is going to refresh its Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country vans for 2011 with the new Pentastar V6 engine family and some other upgrades. The Town & Country is slated to receive a redesigned front end as well.
Toyota has taken a marketing approach with the new Sienna that makes light of the un-hip image of minivans, attacking the perceptions head-on. They’re a little corny, but also pretty darn funny. For instance, the “Swagger Wagon” rap video is after the jump.
Honda used the “Respect the van” slogan when selling the current Odyssey minivan a few years ago, which took a similar approach to what Toyota is trying to do with the Sienna. I love how all of the vans featured in the video before the Odyssey are Ford and GM full-size vans. (I also chuckled about the way NBC used to throw in any full-size van for A-Team stunts, even if it wasn’t the same brand as B.A.’s black van. (They showed an old Ford in this clip making a jump).
Rather than actually making a cool minivan (that’s been tried before; it’s not possible…*cough* 1990 Pontiac TransSport *cough*), Toyota and Honda have embraced and made light of the fact that vans actually aren’t cool. And that’s OK.
My CTS could have a bumper sticker that reads, “My other car is a Sienna.” It’s true: when we were expecting our second child and wanted a more versatile vehicle than our Nissan Pathfinder, I had hoped to dodge the minivan bullet and get a large crossover like the Buick Enclave. But I just could not argue with the amazing practicality and space in a minivan. We significantly increased our usable interior space, made it easier to load and unload (three of the van’s five doors open electrically), and improved our fuel economy against the 2005 Pathfinder. Like Honda and Toyota are asking men to do, I threw out any hesitation I may have had about driving a van and just went with what my wife wanted. We had been some of the few non-minivan-owning holdouts in my wife’s playgroup anyway, so if you can’t beat them, join them, right?
As a man in my mid-thirties, I don’t have to impress anyone with what I’m driving. Heck, even when I drove what I thought were kind of neat cars in the past (and were actually kind of dorky, in retrospect), they never got me any extra interest from the opposite sex. And being the married father of two, I have no need to impress anyone with what I’m driving, much less members of the opposite sex.
Chrysler’s Dodge brand, on the other hand, is trying to make a “man van” – a minivan that appeals more to males than to females. Toyota has also kind of tried this with its sport-oriented Sienna SE. The Sienna SE has lowered suspension, black-on-white instrumentation, a blacked-out front fascia, and other visual and mechanical tricks to conceal its inherent practicality and dorkiness. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, Dodge is likely to have a “man van” in its Caravan lineup within the next few months.
The WSJ article also notes that the van – which would actually be called the “Man Van” – would likely be similar to the concept that Chrysler displayed at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit dubbed the “Grand Caravan R/T Concept.” This bright orange/red metallic van with ground effects, a hood scoop, blacked out grille, and giant wheels certainly conveys a more masculine image than does the standard Caravan. It appears to definitely have its Y chromosome in order, perhaps more so than does the Sienna SE.
A dealer interviewed by the paper noted that the man van may catch at least some attention from buyers, and dealers may order one or two just to see if it seems to be popular. I’m a bit skeptical, however, as to whether extreme brand extensions (sporty minivans?) can move the needle toward the ultimate objective, which is selling more cars. Would attention (and, potentially, marketing dollars) be better focused elsewhere, like improving interior quality, fuel economy, or some other trait that buyers really care about?
In the end, the Grand Caravan R/T (or whatever it will be called) will probably not cause any harm, but hopefully the soccer dads driving them don’t think they’re cool because of their vehicle’s 20 inch wheels and hood scoop. Instead, they’re cool because they’re dads who put their family’s comfort and safety above concerns about what others think about their vehicle of choice. Er, at least mostly they do. The bigger news for the Grand Caravan for 2011, though, is that Pentastar V6. That engine will improve fuel economy and performance, not to mention refinement. Now that’s something that might help sales.