Every six months or so we hear about baby boomer nostalgia for the minivan, and then comes the inevitable suggestion that the “humble family hauler is becoming cool again.”
No, it’s not. A recent Bloomberg treatise touting a modest comeback of the “suburban mom-mobile” is nothing more than a selection of snapshot statistics wrapped in wishful thinking. The minivan isn’t dead, but it’s been in steady decline and will soon achieve niche status.
Yes, yes, Bloomberg reports that minivan sales in the U.S. jumped 17.5 per cent to 316,500 through July – twice the growth rate of SUVs and crossover vehicles in the same period. So what? A blip is not a trend.
In Canada, minivan sales have been in steady decline for years. In 2007, according to figures from DesRosiers Automotive Reports, Canadians bought 125,071 small vans. And down the spiral goes. In 2008 small van sales slid to 101,272, followed by 86,831 in 2009, 86,703 in 2010 and 84,363 last year. Sales of the world’s best-selling minivan, the Dodge Caravan, are down 6.4 per cent in Canada this year.
Some praise the loyalty of minivan owners and Bloomberg trotted that factor out, too, predicting that an aging minivan fleet needs to be replaced. Minivans are, indeed, practical family vehicles and also much more affordable than a comparable crossover wagon or SUV. Again, so what?
You and I know that at every backyard barbeque, if the conversation turns to family vehicles and minivans, everybody present – except the oddball in the corner – rolls their eyes and swears one of two things:
- If they have a minivan, they swear not to buy another one once the current rig is worn out and the kids have grown up.
- If they don’t have a minivan but once did, the promise is always the same – no more, never again, no matter how affordable or practical.
“I’m not driving around in another little milk truck,” is the sort of thing you hear over and again, especially from moms who inevitably do most of the minivan chores.
So yes, as Bloomberg rightly notes, the minivan has been called the fourth most influential vehicle of all time, behind the Ford Model T, Volkswagen Beetle and Ford F-Series pickup. But the Model T eventually went away forever; the Beetle likewise, at least as a mass-market car; and, if fuel prices keep rising and politicians have their way, the F-Series and other monster pickups will also be under pressure and may face extinction.
Now, if you do plan to buy a minivan, your choices keep shrinking. Ford and GM long ago exited the minivan business. Chrysler, which invented the minivan in the early 1980s, will replace the Chrysler Town & Country minivan in 2014 with a crossover, according to Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Aside from Chrysler, Nissan still sells a very nice Quest minivan and Honda has the Odyssey, a perennial quality and price leader in this segment. Toyota’s Sienna is the only minivan to offer an all-wheel-drive option. But Kia is reported to be ending sales of the Sedona minivan after the 2012 model year, and Kia’s sister company, Hyundai, ended sales of the Entourage minivan after 2008.
For me, well, I don’t have a visceral hatred of minivans – not like so many of my neighbours, some of whom have owned two or three over the years. I’m just stating the facts. Car companies can load up their minivans with all the high-tech gadgets and comfort features in the world, and they will still find minivan sales in decline.
Too bad, that. As Bloomberg reports, in an effort to keep minivans appealing, the car companies have not only installed dual video screens, in-floor storage, blind-spot detection and better navigation features, they’ve also cut wind noise, improved fuel economy and played with chassis tuning so that in the typical minivan, the ride and handling are very, very good.
But none of this stuff is going to restore minivans to their glory days when millions of baby boomers had a minivan in the driveway. Nostalgia won’t overcome the minivan stigma.