OCT 22nd 2015

Axon's Automotive Anorak ‑ People Carrying Pioneers ‑ Not for us Brits

Renault Espace

Sharp suits, killer lipstick, over-inflated egos. It can only mean one thing. The Apprentice is back on our TV screens.

Axon Wing Mirror Promo

So far the latest episodes of the popular BBC series have delivered few surprises, serving up the usual team squabbles, bitch fights and cringe worthy Lord Sugar put-downs. One thing has changed, however. The fleet of people carriers to move the candidates around from one business crisis to the next has been switched from the copious Chrysler Grand Voyagers, used for many years, to VW vans with windows and swivel seats.

Although a number of good purpose-built people carriers are still available to British new car buyers with the need to carry large families or acres of junk, Auntie Beeb probably resorted to a gaggle of Volkswagens as the Grand Voyager, along with Chrysler, has now quietly disappeared from the UK market, with Chrysler registering just two examples in September in the largest new car sales month of the year!

Chrysler Voyager

To me this is a shame, as the Chrysler Voyager, along with the Renault Espace, was the true pioneer of the modern-era MPV, inventing a whole new segment of the market when these two models entered the North American and European markets respectively in the early 1980s.

Although the Espace has remained on sale in Continental Europe since the launch of the first Matra-developed model in 1984, this once-popular MPV was withdrawn from sale in the UK a few years ago, as part of a major model cull of low-volume sellers from Renault, with other casualties including the comprehensive Laguna range, along with the Modus, Kaleos, Wind and the passenger car version of the funky Kangoo. Renault has since launched an enticing all-new Espace MPV on the Continent, but sadly for us Brits we are denied this stylish people mover, with no plans for right-hand-drive production to commence anytime soon.

As for the Chrysler, when Fiat took over the ailing American automotive group from Daimler-Benz six years ago, it immediately withdrew the budget Dodge brand in the UK and Europe, and troublingly stuck Lancia grilles and badges on some aging Chrysler models in mainland Europe, including the Grand Voyager. Here in Blighty, we got Chrysler branding for the Lancia Ypsilon and Delta models, but few were fooled, with even fewer choosing to buy one of these stylish Italian hatchbacks, which were confusingly marketed as being all-American!

Fiat 600 Multipla

Fiat itself pioneered the post-war modern MPV in the late 1950s with its dinky little late 600 Multipla. Its innovative but ugly 1990s Multipla set the benchmark for a whole new generation of cleverly packaged people carriers, but its Marmite styling repelled most customers, leaving us today with a set of competent but conventional full-size MPVs to do battle with glut of SUVs and crossovers, from marques as diverse as Ford, Volkswagen, Ssangyong and SEAT, all of which are more than capable of carrying plenty of passengers around in comfort, but hardly moving the game forward in the way that pioneers Chrysler and Renault did more than three decades ago. So, sadly for the Grand Voyager and Espace, you’re fired!

Photography courtesy of Renault and E Peiffer and Rudolf Strickler via Creative Commons

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