Chrysler shows off redesigned minivans

The new minivan is not too surprising on the outside - the new part is on the inside.

DETROIT ( -- People buy minivans for functionality, not style. That fact was not lost on Chrysler's Ralph Gilles, the designer behind the company's new minivans, most famous for penning the lines of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum.

Part of the appeal of those large cars is their overtly thuggish looks.

2008 Chrysler Town & Country
2008 Chrysler Town & Country

But minivans just aren't cool.

The reason that car-like crossover SUVs have been taking sales away from minivans is that the crossovers, even though they don't offer as much room as a minivan, have a more playful image. People are willing to give up some utility so as not to feel they're driving an appliance.

See the redesigned minivans

Those crossovers are becoming so popular, in fact, that both Ford (Charts) and General Motors (Charts) pulled out of the minivan market altogether this year. Both are replacing their minivans with crossover SUVs with three rows of seats.

The Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler (Charts) isn't giving up, though. The Chrysler Town & Country and the similar Dodge Caravan are, combined, the largest-selling minivans in America.

And, at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, Chrysler unveiled their bid to stay on top.

Many people suspected that Gilles would try to make Chrysler minivans look hip and cool. Well forget it. Who are they trying to kid here? These are family haulers, rolling living rooms.

"Any excessive styling screws up the utility," said David Zatz, editor of, a Web site focusing on Chrysler Group products.

Just as it has in the past, Chrysler is fighting back by piling on the functionality.

With the current generation of minivans, Chrysler was taken a bit by surprise by the popularity of the Stow-and-Go seating feature. (The back seats fold flat into cavernous spaces under the floor. When the seats are up, those spaces can be used for storage.)

Recognizing a strong point when they see one, Chrysler is adding on even more features this time around.

The redesigned 2008 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan feature Swivel n' Go seating. The second-row seats rotate 180-degrees to face the third row seats, creating a conversation space in the back of the van. Meanwhile, a table also inserts between the rows.

The company has crash-tested the vans with seats in both front- and rear-facing positions and with and without the table in place, according to a Chrysler spokeswoman.

An optional DVD entertainment system has two separate screens that can have two different displays, so older kids on one row don't have to watch Teletubbies along with the younger ones in the other row.

From the outside, though, both are quickly recognizable as just what they are. The Dodge Caravan gets a somewhat more major design change with an aggressive-looking grill.

See the redesigned minivans

All-star Auto Show Blog Top of page

Photos and details