It’s hard to imagine a world without the minivan—the ol’reliable family-hauler that has safely transported kids to soccer practice for close to 40 years. However, there was a time where the minivan didn’t exist! Back in the ‘70s, when the Beatles just broke up, the first cell phone was invented, and Bill Gates just founded Microsoft. Your parents or grandparents would still probably gloat that they had to “walk 20 miles every day to school,” where they were given 50 lashes a day with a hefty wooden ruler.
Chrysler Faces Bankruptcy
There were times when the automotive industry struggled as a whole. Chrysler had its back against the wall in the late ‘70s and was facing bankruptcy. The company needed to rebound, and boy, they were in luck. A senile Henry Ford II just let-go company president, and all-around automotive all-star, Lea Iacocca. The automotive industry’s oversight of the century saw the firing of the guy who oversaw the inception of Ford’s classic Mustang and who just posted a $2 billion dollar profit for the company in 1978. Chrysler almost instantly brought Iacocca on board who instantly went to work. In 1979, Iacocca helped convince the U.S. government that Chrysler had a future. A $1.5 billion dollar bailout from the U.S. government was received by Chrysler, and Iacocca had big plans in the works, that of course included the revolutionary minivan.
Iococca teamed with fellow Ford expat, Hal Sperlich, where the duo created the original minivan prototype, dubbed the T-115. The model was presented by the duo years earlier at Ford (called the Minimax, which ultimately lead to the firing of both Iococca and Sperlich.
Japanese auto sales were through the roof during the ‘70s as consumers saw cheap, fuel-efficient vehicles as the future. Chrysler responded with it’s K Car platform, multiple nameplates that shared the same platform and parts to save factory costs. The K Car also introduced the first front-wheel drive car to Chrysler’s lineup, which drastically improved efficiency.
Iococca and Sperlich took the successful K Car platform, with its efficient front-wheel drive and implemented the technology into their minivan prototype. In 1984 both the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were launched and began the Chrysler minivan dynasty. In 5 short years, Chrysler had undug its own grave with the help of the guys who created the Mustang.
The Minivan Today
Almost 40 years later, the minivan segment has decreased in size, competition is still strong in the ranks of FCA. Look to Chrysler’s terrific Pacifica model for a luxurious take on the family-mover. And of course, there’s still the Dodge Grand Caravan—the minivan that started it all!