DETROIT — The minivan is parenthood and suburbia in plastic and metal. It’s been that way ever since Chrysler introduced the world’s first minivan 33 years ago, just as the first millennials were being born. The minivan played a recurring role in their childhoods, ferrying them to their soccer practices and clarinet lessons, recitals and on family road trips. But as these millennials grew up, they didn’t want anything to do with the minivan — it was that boring vehicle their parents drove — helping explain why sales have been plummeting for more than a decade.
Now, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles wants to revive the minivan segment by convincing millennials to buy them. The automaker unveiled Monday the new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The new Pacifica is a hipper take on the stodgy minivan, with a body that features more curves than boxy cuts. The Pacifica also is available with 20-inch wheels and LED accent lights rimming the headlights, just like a sports car.
It’s a minivan that looks less like the maligned vehicle of practical transport from years past. And that’s the point, said Bruce Velisek, director of the Chrysler brand.
“We think this design helps dispel that stigma,” Velisek said.
Just attempting to sell a minivan to millennials shows how much this much-discussed generation has grown up. The generation’s leading edge turns 36 this year. Already, one-third of millennials are parents with children, according to an Experian report. That makes them prime candidates to drive minivans.
Chrysler is banking on millennials turning into their parents, who made the original Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country into automotive stars. Both the Caravan, now called the Grand Caravan, and the Town & Country will be phased out by Chrysler. The automaker’s minivan future, for now, rides on the Pacifica.
Velisek called the Pacifica minivan’s design “more athletic.” It’s still clearly a minivan, with sliding side doors and ample interior space. But the body looks more windswept. Velisek said Chrysler has done “tons of research” into why people buy minivans. It boils down basically to buyers like how easy a minivan makes it to haul around children. Minivan drivers just shake their heads at parents struggling to pile their sons and daughters into an SUV.
“There’s minivan pride,” Velisek said.
And he’s hoping millennials will want it.