Now, you probably haven't heard of it before, although you're thinking it looks familiar. It's from Volkswagen, sort of, and it's pronounced ROO-tan. Yes, the same folks who gave us Tiguan and Touareg, and could use some new staff in the naming department. Routan -- now available without a prescription! But I digress ...
Anyway, I just got back from the Toronto Auto Show press preview, where VW took the wraps off the stunning Passat CC (think Mercedes-Benz CL-Class, but hopefully with a lower price tag) and the Routan. If that one looks familiar, that's because Chrysler builds it alongside the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country on behalf of VW. (Instead of Routan, maybe they could have called it a Vodge. Or a ChryWagen.)
I wish VW all the luck in the world with it, but really, what were they thinking? The traditional minivan market used to be a license to print money, but that's all changed. You want to do well in this shrinking segment, you make something really inexpensive, like a base Caravan, or a Hyundai Entourage, or a Kia Sedona, because people know it's just going to end up covered in kidspit and dog hair. Sure, the pricier Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are great pieces of engineering, but those two combined sold just under 22,000 copies last year in Canada, compared to 56,572 Dodge and Chrysler vans.
VW should have learned a lesson with the Phaeton, which they wouldn't have been able to keep in stock if they'd released it as an Audi: it's damn tough to sell a $100,000 car that has the same badge as a $16,000 Golf. While pricing hasn't been released, I'm betting the bank that this minivan is going to have a higher sticker than its Caravan twin. Sure, it'll have a nicer interior and "sport-tuned suspension" (be careful you don't tip the groceries when carving corners), but it's a Dodge with a VW badge. Call me crazy, but I think buyers just might figure that out.