Gilles says next minivan caters to multitasker

Gilles says next minivan caters to multitasker.

New Chrysler Minivan to Woo ‘Supermom,’ Designer Says

There still is no confirmation of whether Chrysler’s next minivan lives on as a Caravan or Town & Country, but it will emphasize function regardless of badging.

DETROIT – Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles says the auto maker’s forthcoming minivan may put an end to the “soccer mom” tag.

The future product, due to be unveiled as either a Dodge or Chrysler for the ’15 model year, revolves around the multitasker, Gilles says at the 2013 SAE World Congress here.

The current generation of minivan drivers has more responsibilities than in 1984, when the auto maker introduced the vehicle, and the next model will reflect that.

“We’ve absolutely taken that into that consideration – more than taking into consideration. We’re designing it around the user more than ever before,” says Gilles, who also serves as president of Chrysler’s SRT performance brand.

Don’t call minivan drivers soccer moms, Gilles warns.

“I think the new generation is ‘supermom.’ The term ‘soccer mom’ will go away, and you’ll hear things like ‘supermom’,” he says. “I think consumers see minivans as a tool to be the ultimate mother, so we’re designing it for that.”

The new minivan will enter a smaller yet still-competitive segment where catering to driver individuality and vehicle function will be keys to marketing. Honda, for example, caught attention when it unveiled its Odyssey minivan with a built-in vacuum cleaner at this year’s New York auto show.

Gilles gives no further hint about the coming minivan, whose badging still is a subject of speculation. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said either the Chrysler Town & Country or the Dodge Caravan will be axed, with the surviving nameplate carrying on the auto maker’s minivan tradition. The other will be replaced by a “people carrier,” largely expected to be a cross/utility vehicle.

Women drivers will be vital to the product’s success. Chrysler employed a significant number of female engineers and designers in creating the new model. “We use clinics where we kind of carve out women’s inputs…and we have women on our staff who, thankfully, offer real-life experiences,” Gilles says.

The executive tells reporters Chrysler also is exploring alternative powertrain options following the launch of the Fiat 500e, the auto maker’s first electrified vehicle in the U.S.

A muscle car with some electrified or hybrid technology is on Gilles’ wish list, but is nowhere near final development.

“We’re investigating the idea of combining (electrification and performance),” he says. “If you look at light-hybrid (propulsion), you can really see the increased amount of fuel economy by using electric power at certain times.

“I want SRT to be the test badge for technologies,” Gilles adds. “We have enough margin to afford those technologies, so it makes sense to experiment with them.”

The 500e, developed at the auto maker’s Michigan headquarters, will launch in California and will be sold in small volume for at least a year before being rolled out gradually across the U.S., closely monitored for consumer response the whole time.

“Don’t underestimate what we’re learning from that,” Gilles says of the 500e’s electric powertrain. “We’ve had tremendous tests of knowledge being accumulated by creating that car.

“Stay tuned for the future.”

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