For years, soccer moms have been clamoring for a hybrid minivan. After all, who is more sensitive to fuel economy and gas prices than the legions of heroic parents hauling kids and groceries throughout suburbia? Just when they seemed ready to give up hope, it appears that Chrysler, a leader in the minivan market, may deliver the goods by 2010.
The Windsor Star—not coincidentally the hometown paper of the site of one of Chrysler’s minivan plants—reports that the company has already decided to put a full-hybrid system in the Grand Caravan. The technology could lift city fuel economy into the mid-20 mpg range, and highway mileage into the 30s. A Chrysler spokesperson provides a non-denial denial about the hybrid minivan. “All our vehicles are under consideration” for new propulsion technologies, he said.
Toyota has had a hybrid version of its Estima minivan in Japan for several years, though the hybrid model was dropped in the van’s latest edition. Tens of thousands of consumers have petitioned Toyota to bring the hybrid minivan to the U.S., but the company has ignored the demands of all those parents and their pint-sized passengers.
The Chrysler minivan, a bread and butter vehicle for the company since 1984, has never been known as a paragon of advanced technology—other than cupholders and other consumer-pleasing tech like power side doors and Stow-and-Go seats. Adding a hybrid system makes sense for a family-oriented people-mover like the minivan. Chrysler has been losing market share in the shrinking minivan segment to Honda and Toyota in the middle and high end and Hyundai and Kia on the low end.
While Toyota has the technology well in hand—though not yet applied to their minivan—the unanswered question at Chrysler is what hybrid system they might use. The company is using the sophisticated two-mode hybrid system—developed by engineers from Daimler, BMW and GM—for the hybrid version of the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen full-size SUVs. But it might be tempted to opt for something cheaper from a Chinese partner like Chery or Great Wall.
Another option is to drop a diesel engine in the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan. Chrysler already sells its European minivans with 2.8-liter diesels, although those engines are not emissions-compliant for the United States. Also, a diesel-minivan might not have the ring of green family-friendliness that a hybrid minivan would carry in suburbia.
With gas prices stretching family budgets to the limit—and nerves frayed from an ever-more frenzied schedule of practices, lessons, and errands—demands for relief are reaching a fever pitch. A Chrysler hybrid minivan may arrive just in the nick of time.