SUVs have decimated minivan sales in part because of their rugged appearance and the promise of off-road capability, but what if you could imbue a minivan with those same qualities? It almost happened with the Dodge Caravan in the 1990s.
First spotted by The Drive, this Dodge Caravan off-road concept was penned by Michael Santoro, who had just finished working on the Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus “cloud car” sedans at the time. Santoro would go on to work for doomed supercar maker Vector, and help hatch the Jeep Easter egg, but in the mid 1990s he was a minivan specialist.
“One of the best parts about being in a studio that designs the best selling vehicle a company makes is, there is always interest from upper management in spin-offs and line extensions,” Santoro said of the off-road minivan’s genesis on his personal website.
Dodge Caravan off-road concept (via Michael Santoro)
Tasked with creating a new Caravan variant “without spending any money,” Santoro added grille bars, side steps, a light bar, a roof rack, and blacked-out B-pillars. The design progressed far enough for a prototype to be built and shown to dealers.
While Dodge dealers loved the concept, Jeep dealers didn’t. They were afraid a production version of the off-road minivan would cannibalize sales, Santoro said.
Regardless, the prototype was “a step away” from debuting at the Chicago Auto Show, but “the plug was pulled at the last moment,” Santoro said. Adding off-road styling cues has helped boost the sales of other types of vehicles—just look at the Subaru Outback and Audi Allroad wagons—but could it have worked with a minivan? It seems we’ll never know.