Monday, August 25, 2014

Goodbye Minivan, Hello Crossover!

Alexander Carabitses

(Image credited to Dodge)

In the late 1970's, the Detroit Big-Three were looking for an heir to the station wagon.  They had learned that passenger versions of cargo vans weren't the ticket, so they set their sights on something bigger.  An all new product, and an all new segment.  GM scrapped their plans to develop this vehicle, though.  Ford seemed keen to develop the "minimax", but due to arrogance from Henry Ford II, and the fear of trying something new, the "minimax" was cancelled.  Both Ford's product manager Hal Sperlich, and Ford's president Lee Iacocca, were fired for it.  Both of these men ended up at Chrysler.  Despite being cash poor, Chrysler went to work on this station wagon heir, and decided to build it on the K Car platform.  In the end Chrysler brought the minivan to market.  It was small, fuel efficient, and front wheel drive and because of that, it was a success.  Eventually other car companies introduced minivans of their own.

But then SUVs became popular, as did crossovers, and now only seven minivans are in the market today.  GM no longer makes minivans, and neither does Hyundai or Ford.  Ford has kinda, sorta reentered with the passenger version of the Transit Connect, so if you count it, that makes eight.  Meanwhile, Volkswagen killed off the Routan (itself based on the Chrysler minivans), and Dodge will kill off the Grand Caravan next year.  Long story short, this is a dying segment.  Kia is calling its new Sedona minivan an MPV (itself a dying segment in Europe).  There are two big problems with minivans: a)aside from the Mazda 5, all of these mini vans are big, and b) its hard to justify buying one if crossovers can seat 7 people.  Given how popular crossovers are, once you tell people that they can buy one that seats as many people as a minivan, they are sold.  Crossovers are all that people care about anymore.  They are so popular that they outsold sedans last quarter.  This is kind of sad, but its the truth that we have to live with today, in this industry.  If anything, its a higher seating position, and increased utility, which is driving their popularity because these vehicles aren't really off road capable.

I remember Thanksgiving 2007.  My family and some friends of ours were going to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC.  And what did we go in? A 2002 Honda Odyssey.  To this day, I love minivans, but their existence is almost unnecessary now.  With a new Chrysler Town and Country due in 2016, we"ll see if the minivan segment is reenergized, or if things stay as they are.  Who knows, we may see more automakers pull out of the segment.  It really is ashamed that we've reached this point, but people like what they like, and business is business.  Have a good week!

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