Badge engineering! Always near the top of my search list when poking through car graveyards, obscure examples of marketing-inspired rebadgitude will jump right out from the ho-hum ranks of Elantras and LaCrosses in any yard. I haven’t managed to find a discarded Suzuki Equator yet, sad to say, but I have documented such rarities as a Mitsubishi-badged Hyundai Excel, an Isuzu-badged Chevy Colorado, and a Dodge-badged Renault 25. Today we’ll visit one of the most puzzling examples of badge-engineering history in the North American automotive marketplace: the Volkswagen Routan.
VW stopped selling the EuroVan here in 2003, which meant that Volkswagen of America had nothing van-like to offer shoppers while competitors raked in cash from their minivan sales. Just as Honda had been forced to turn to Isuzu in order to provide a luxury SUV in North America (even as Isuzu sold Honda minivans here), Volkswagen turned to another manufacturer in order to avoid spending billions developing a minivan from scratch. Yes, Canadian-built Chrysler minivans were given some minor modifications and sold as Routans… for way more money than a same-year Grand Caravan or Town & Country.
Minivan shoppers figured out the vehicle-per-buck disparity between the Routan and its Chrysler/Dodge siblings and so very few of them signed on the line which is dotted for the Routan. Total sales of Routans barely cracked 60,000 units, from the introduction in the 2009 model year through the Routan’s demise in 2014.
I’ve found a few Routans in wrecking yards in recent years, and most have been crash victims picked over hard by shoppers looking for running gear for members of the Chrysler minivan family. Just about any running minivan less than 15 years old can find someone willing to keep it on the street because these are useful machines, so I don’t expect to see clean/unwrecked Routans in U-Wrench-It yards for another couple of years.
Volkswagen did their best to add interior touches that reminded Routan owners of the old air-cooled Transporters, but the addition of a faux-metal dash covering didn’t compensate for the lack of the helpful Stow-n-Go seats found in Grand Caravans and Town & Countries.
Was it worth paying thousands more for a Grand Caravan with Volkswagen badging? Not many buyers thought so.
Just the van to have when you’re carrying live frogs on a family road trip.
They should have hired Sean Penn to do the Transporter’s voice in this ad.
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