In the collective imagination, especially in Europe, the innovator of the minivan is Renault’s Espace, released in 1984.
However, as early as 1982, Nissan paved the way for this family vehicle with its Prairie. In 1983, Chrysler introduced its Voyager in the United States.
When designing the Espace, Matra would take the “monocorps” concept even further, with a bonnet extending from the windscreen, and further refine modularity with individual sliding and swiveling seats.
Since the first day of marketing, the Chrysler Voyager has been tearing up like hotcakes in the US. The Windsor, Ontario plant was unable to follow through and after a year of marketing, Chrysler had sold more than 200,000 copies of its minivan, ten times the target.
For the manufacturer, this breakthrough comes at the right time. Chrysler faced heavy investment and had to borrow.
The good news is that Voyager not only sells effortlessly, but it rakes in comfortable margins. Finally, this car, sold as the top of the range, is nothing more than a utility body with carpeting and bench seats installed.
Chrysler didn’t want the Voyager
To make the most of this success, we’ll turn it down on the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, just to water down the Chrysler Group’s entire dealer network. The latter swears by this model.
Ironically, it is said that the same leaders were very skeptical about the possibility of this minivan, which has been ready since 1981, but which was not a priority to present to the public.
A project that has been around since the 1970s and which owes its arrival to an innovation: the flat floor, which allows both ample interior space and less heavy front-wheel drive.
Voyager, instrument of victory
After initially serving the American market, Chrysler saw a way to conquer the European market well in the Voyager. The success of the Renault Espace confirms the Americans.
From 1988, Voyager was sold in Europe and France. We appreciate its van side and its typically American presentation.
Engine-wise, the arrival of the Mitsubishi V6 and especially a turbo diesel VM allows the Voyager to position itself as a credible alternative to the Renault Espace.
The world’s best-selling minivan
Over the years, the Chrysler Voyager has gone through many evolutions, experiencing eight generations to date. As the redesign progressed, it became more European, approaching more and more the Renault Espace or its new competitors such as the PSA minivan.
If Renault’s Espace is still considered a huge success, the numbers don’t speak for it.
The Chrysler Voyager and its derivatives are the world’s best-selling minivans to date, with over 15 million units produced. In contrast, the Renault Espace sold 1,300,000 copies.
At the height of their careers in the late 90s, the two minivans would both meet a tragic end.
A detail of the sign
We are in 2011. Sergio Marchionne, then the all-powerful boss of the Fiat Group, did not bother with the concept of history or DNA. Since the Italian got its hands on the Chrysler Group, the leader has been treating brand logos as interchangeable stickers from one car to another.
Some Dodges become Fiats and vice versa, but Chrysler and Lancia go a step further.
As he presents another survival plan for the group, Marchionne declares that there is no more money for Lancia. To continue offering this brand, it will simply rebadge the Chrysler range to Lancia in the European market.
Voyager becomes Lancia!
The 300C saloon became a new theme, reviving the Chrysler 200 convertible Flavia. As Voyager, it keeps its name, but goes under the Lancia flag! Cars change brands overnight.
n the first few months, the Italian boss is delighted to see Voyager contributing to Lancia’s sales growth in Europe. But the truth is, the end is already recorded. Voyager attracts only a few hundred customers.
Even as the only seven-seater on the market with a big trunk, you have to face the truth: the minivan market is definitely dead. The arrival of large SUVs will accelerate the decline.
The Lancia Voyager will last until stocks run out, a long and painful death that will end in 2015.
Space and travel, same fight
Today the Chrysler Voyager still exists in the US, as does the Renault Espace in France.
Clearly left behind by large SUVs, the Espace is living out its final months. The last generation tried to reinvent the genre. But having lost all its tangible aspects without giving anything more, space has lost its last adherents.
As for the Voyager, Chrysler can only sell a few thousand units per year to rental companies.