February 10, 2021
Dodge Came So Close To Kickstarting American Off-Road Van Market in the ’90s
Legendary minivan designer creates fabulous off-road version of venerable family hauler, only to have the idea torpedoed by jealous Jeep dealers. That’s it, that’s the pitch. A frustrating story for the ages, if you like vans and off-road travel. As first reported at The Drive, one-time Chrysler-employed designer Michael Santoro dreamt up a Dodge Caravan that could maybe have changed the face of car making, back in the mid-1990s.
Santoro had already penciled prototypes for outlandish Caravan models when he brought he his bosses a new idea. What if a Caravan,but rugged? You could make use of the innards for camp goodies, like a VW Vanagon, he might have said. The Chrysler brass were stoked. The loved it. Let’s do it, they said.
But when Jeep dealers got wind, they feared people would rush to the vastly more practical Caravan and Jeep sales would plummet. They were probably right, but they deprived us of a brave new world of outdoor-ified production vans long long before #vanlife, or hashtags, or social media, were on anybody’s mind.