Monday, December 10, 2007

Chrysler minivan buyers pick richer mix of features

Among the features available on Chrysler's new minivans, the most touted is Swivel 'n Go, which lets passengers in the second row turn their seats to face passengers in the third row -- with a table between the rows.

Bradford Wernle
Automotive News
December 10, 2007 - 12:01 am ET

DETROIT — Buyers of Chrysler LLC's redesigned 2008 minivans are loading the vehicles with more equipment than they did for the previous generation.

"People are wanting the Swivel 'n Go and the twin-screen DVD and the Sirius satellite TV," says Doug Alley, owner of Alley Dodge in Kingsport, Tenn. "That has not been our typical Caravan customer for the previous model."

Alley says that in the past, his customers typically preferred modestly equipped minivans. Other dealers report similar experiences with the new Chrysler minivans: the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan.

The most ballyhooed feature of the new minivans is Swivel 'n Go, which allows second-row passengers to swivel their seats to face third-row passengers across a table. Through October, 31 percent of minivan customers had opted for Swivel 'n Go.

Chrysler was uncertain how popular the feature would be because it involves a compromise: The swiveling second-row seats can't be stowed in the floor with the popular Stow 'n Go mechanism. They must be removed from the vehicle. Once the seats are lifted out, owners can stow things under the floor.

Jim Arrigo, owner of Arrigo Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in West Palm Beach, Fla., says he was having trouble finding enough Swivel 'n Go-equipped minivans to keep up with demand.

"I've had two and sold them within 15 minutes," he says.

Chuck Eddy, owner of Bob and Chuck Eddy Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Austintown, Ohio, says grandparents in particular seem to like Swivel 'n Go.

But Eddy thinks Stow 'n Go will continue to be more popular: "Swivel 'n Go is nice, but it's a smaller sector of the market."

Tom Libby, an analyst for the Power Information Network, says early signs are favorable for the new Chrysler minivans.

"The price on the Chrysler Town & Country is actually going up, which is unusual," Libby says. "To see the price go up after introduction is very rare. It's still early, but that's rare."

The average transaction price of the Town & Country, without incentives, was $29,586 from Sept. 1 through Nov. 25, according to Power data. That compares with $26,294 for the 2007 model during the same period a year ago. The average price of the Dodge Grand Caravan was $26,971, compared with $24,730 a year ago.

But Libby says Dodge has sacrificed some price-conscious shoppers by discontinuing the short-wheelbase Caravan. The average price for 2007 Caravans still moving off dealer lots was $17,997, not including incentives.

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