How Minivans Started

If someone were to document the most important vehicles ever made, near the top would be the Chrysler minivan.  That’s right, there were no minivans! Before the 1980s, there were sedans and station wagons being made for your usual transportation and “Cargo vans” if you wanted to carry tons of gear and people. The idea of a smaller “car-like van” simply had not hit the chalkboard yet.

Lacocca’s Contributions

A “car-like van” concept was identified with Chrysler Corporation, and during one darkest times too. In the late 1970s, decades of crummy product quality, design miscues and terrible leadership had left Chrysler Corporation nearly close to destruction. Chrysler’s Board of Directors needed somebody to turn around the company and asked the legendary Lee Iacocca—yes, his last name was not capitalized–to take over the helm. He accepted! This was hope that the company would keep in business, and do incredibly well financially!

Luckily for Chrysler, they had just finished the design of new front wheel K car models; the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant.  Although the company was having money trouble, a great deal of research and development on their new front wheel drive systems had already been finished and the company only needed enough cash to get the new models into production.  Iaccocca obtained financing from United States government.

But Iaccoca knew that Chrysler required more than just a few new models. Chrysler needed something super special.  Working with design engineers, Iacocca supported the “car-like van” idea that would use their front-wheel drive K-car powertrain technology.  Executives and analysts didn’t think this was a good idea at the time.


It turned out it was, though. A front wheel drive minivan offers tons of interior room because it lacks a driveshaft.  It offers superior gas mileage and it may be built cheaper than heavy duty vans.  Chrysler went into total production in 1985.

The results were spectacular. During its first year of sales, Chrysler sold over 200,000 minivans under the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager names.  The whole automobile industry noticed and was shocked.  Soon thereafter, General Motors responded with scaled-down conventional vans: the Astro and GMC Safari, and Ford countered with their Aerostar.  But the Astro, Safari and Aerostar vans were based on rear wheel drive truck components and did not offer the Chrysler minivan advantages. They failed to capture anyway near the Chrysler vehicles’ sales.


Nowadays almost every manufacturer has a mini-van to offer but none can say they’ve been building them as long as Chrysler.  After all, Chrysler invented the concept and has kept improving it, especially with their Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid! Chrysler minivans are some of the finest out there. Although it seems incomprehensible to those who are younger than 40, there was a time that minivans did not exist. Baltimore and Edgewood, MD are homes of this car dealer that helped us with this article—thank you to them, and of course thank you to you for reading!

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