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Oracle of Delphi

Cost of gas, Soccer-mom image doom minivans

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DETROIT - Asked recently how the U.S. minivan market has been faring, Nissan's Dominique Thormann had a concise answer.

"It collapsed," said Thormann, a senior vice president of Nissan North America.

While the rapid decline in pickup and sport utility sales has been grabbing the headlines, minivan sales have also taken a tumble, falling 20 percent in the first five months of this year.

And unlike trucks, which could rebound once the construction industry picks up, it's unclear if minivans have a future in the U.S. market or if they're being killed off by crossovers and the stodgy taint of the soccer mom image.

"The future of the segment is up in the air," said Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis for the Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power and Associates. Libby said the advantages of minivans — the sliding doors and height — has been eroded by the negative image of minivans and consumer preference for SUV-like styling.

The slump reflects what's going on in the wider U.S. market. Overall auto sales were down 8 percent through May, and big vehicles like minivans took the brunt of it because of high gas prices. Large pickup truck sales fell 21 percent, while large SUVs were down 32 percent.

It doesn't help that families — minivans' target audience — have been particularly impacted by rising gas and food prices, falling home values and more difficulty in borrowing money, said Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst for the Waltham, Mass.-based consulting company Global Insight.

"Everything that a family needs is more expensive right now, and so the last thing they're looking at is do they need to replace their Honda Odyssey," she said.

But even before the economy took its toll, families were migrating away from minivans. U.S. minivan sales peaked at 1.37 million in 2000, 17 years after Chrysler introduced them. They've been falling at a steady rate since then, to 793,335 last year. This year, sales are expected to fall below 650,000 for the first time since 1986.

One reason is the rise of crossovers, which offer similar space but more car-like handling. In March through May of 2004, 12 percent of minivan owners trading in their vehicles bought a crossover. That rose to 26 percent in the same period this year, according to the Power Information Network. Crossovers accounted for just 4 percent of the U.S. market in 2000; they now account for 19 percent.

Another reason for minivans' decline is that some players have left the market. General Motors Corp. will stop making minivans by the end of this year, while Ford Motor Co. quit producing the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey in 2006.

Thormann said Nissan has no plans to exit the market for now, despite a 34 percent drop in sales of the Nissan Quest so far this year. Thormann said that first, Nissan needs to figure out where large SUV buyers are going and whether they will choose to downsize to minivans.

"The fact is that the minivan hit a particular need. Then, that same need was satisfied — because fuel was cheap, because affordability was high — with an SUV," he said. "But once you're stuck up there and you're thinking, 'Oh, wait a minute, do I need to be a little bit more rational and do I need to come down a notch without sacrificing much utility?' Does the minivan become an alternative to that or is it the crossover?"

Story Continues on page 2: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25046105/

Edited by Pontiac Custom-S
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Duh.

Welcome to 2003.

I'd be willing to bet that before too long, minivans (called something else) will be doing quite fine.

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minivans get better mileage than most crossovers, and they are cheaper, yet mommy isn't sexy at 36 if she drives one and no one has learned how to style one yet.

to me also, vans do not have driver oriented interiors. they are like driving buses.

lambdas are the best compromise so far. that said. no wonder GM has four of them.

really though, reason number one. mommy can't play cougar on the side if she's driving around in a van. women are so obsessed with their sexiness even 15-20 years into marraige. they want to come off as divas and the vans don't work. don't worry, crossovers are headed to that place too. At some point, mom isn't gonna wanna be seen in that dodge journey either.

Edited by regfootball
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to me also, vans do not have driver oriented interiors. they are like driving buses.

thats because there family oriented which equals safe but boring

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I think there may be a slight resurgence in the minivan segment as the practical alternative to monstrous full-size SUVs. I could even see myself get one in a couple of years, though a hybrid powertrain is a near-must for me. It looks like Toyota will be the first out with a hybrid minivan.

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Minivans and SUVs are definitely taking a hit. According to CarsDirect, you can get an Odyssey with $4,000 off MSRP, which means a brand new EX-L - now with rear view cam, 3-4-6 VCM, and sunroof - is only $1,000 more than what my parents paid for their EX-L back in 2003.

Interestingly sales for the Mazda5 went up 43% in May...

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If you want a true consumer point of view, look no further.

We needed a second vehicle to begin doing the things that her simpler Optra5 hatchback was becoming too small to do. So, my wife and I were looking at a variety of vehicles this past year and bought a Grand Caravan just last weekend. We looked at everything from the smaller crossovers like the Escape, to the larger of the SUVs like the Acadia. We tested a variety of crossovers and SUVs, reviewing mostly the practical needs of the vehicle. We drove and reviewed the Nissan Murano, Suzuki Grand Vitara, and checked out the information on a host of other vehicles. My wife drove a Pontiac Montana at work used to shuttle clients and that thing was a rattle-monger with half-working power side doors; however, she found so much practical use out of it that she was determined to take a serious look at the Caravan with its stow-n-go seating.

We quickly determined one thing after months of info searching: The grand majority of SUVs and crossovers have been so fluffed for comfort and techno-features that almost all of the practical use of them have disappeared. To me, they have become simply larger people-movers, as opposed to just having a full-size sedan. One quick observation showed us that, while their cargo room is larger than your average sedan or hatchback, it's mostly found in height. That does absolutely nothing for new families when you need one or two strollers, car seats and groceries. The only way to put all of that in the back is to stack it to the roof. They just were not practical enough for our needs. We looked at the Grand Caravan and immediately knew that it had everything we needed to be a versatile family vehicle.

After driving other vehicles, the van also felt quite comfortable to drive. We took it on a 1000 km round trip with our son, enjoying the floating-nature of the drive that really helped keep him satisfied. All of the bin-storage capacity while the seats were up gave us a great amount of organization. One seat-stow bin even served us to keep some beverages cold with the help of a freezer pack. That helped void the need for a cooler altogether.

At home, I set all the seats down and filled it full of recycling for a single trip to the bottle-depot and recycling site. When I previously borrowed a Trailblazer for the job, I had to make those trips separate. All things considered, this makes it a far more fuel efficient answer to the rising fuel costs.

My wife could give a crap about image or stereotypes. We bought it because it served a greater number of our needs for many years to come.

If the industry doesn't return to the practical aspect of building the minivan again, it might just be that consumers have too much pride that keeps them from buying one. Some buyers just need something bigger than a car, so that's accepted; however, a countless number of people I see every day are using SUVs as a daily driver with simple to-and-fro trips to the grocery store for that evening's dinner needs. I know this because it's something I see from my office window overlooking a parking lot.

Edited by ShadowDog
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I think there may be a slight resurgence in the minivan segment as the practical alternative to monstrous full-size SUVs. I could even see myself get one in a couple of years, though a hybrid powertrain is a near-must for me. It looks like Toyota will be the first out with a hybrid minivan.

Minivans can be nice to drive, and they're infinitely practical. I actually really enjoy driving the Ody, which has a very nice driving position, great outward visibility, and immediate throttle response. With a higher profile vehicle, it's fun not having to slow down as much for speed bumps and the like.

Toyota currently makes an Estima Hybrid. I've ridden in the non-hybrid Estima (2.4) and the previous-gen (3.0; below), and they're actually pretty cool...

img2150xy2.jpg

It's about the size of the first Sienna but slightly narrower. We managed to fit eight people, and after three days, there weren't too many complaints. The third row stows into the floor.

Edited by empowah
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Some other interesting vans...

img2122bk7.jpg

img0873cp7.jpg

Toyota Alphard... these are the black Suburbans, and they come with the equivalent of sofas in the second row...

img0885dw0.jpg

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local off lease dealer i've bought from before has been getting batches of 06 and 07 sedona / entourage....most of them under 10k miles and the most recent batch of 07's they have been pricing around 15k. it kills me to consider korean pop cans but the sedona has good basic competence. At least you can manually shift the tranny and its kind of got a floor shifter. To me alone, that might be alright to be seen in one of those things. Maybe i should go test drive one again. Its been a couple years.

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Porblem with minivans is they aren't so mini anymore. Chrysler should put out a cheap, short-wheelbase version of the Caravan, just like they did before the current generation. No stow-n-go, just a small, space-efficient vehicle that can haul a driver and six kids to a baseball game, or a family of four and their gear on a road trip.

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The article is wrong. Sales of Mini-vans <Mazda 5, Kia Rondo, Dodge Journey> are way up. VW would be wise to bring the Touran over here. Saturn would do well with the Opel Meriva, Zafira, and an Insignia Caravan. Likewise Ford C-max, S-max, and Mondeo wagon.

It's the Full sized vans <Odyssey, Sienna, Town & Country> that are way down. Nothing that tips the scales over 4,500 lbs deserves to be called "mini"

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Porblem with minivans is they aren't so mini anymore. Chrysler should put out a cheap, short-wheelbase version of the Caravan, just like they did before the current generation. No stow-n-go, just a small, space-efficient vehicle that can haul a driver and six kids to a baseball game, or a family of four and their gear on a road trip.

They do.

It's called a Dodge Journey...and the Avg. Transaction Price is probably $1,000s more than the SWB minivans were getting.

The mini-minivans (5, Rondo) are still a small (albeit growing) part of the market...

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The Journey replaced the SWB Caravan, as enzl pointed out.

For several years we used the Shadows (then the Intrepid and Prizm) instead of the Caravan, however after getting the T&C we once again grew appreciative of just how useful and efficient a Minivan is. Nothing beats them for practicality. Our current `07 Grand Caravan rental has Stow `n Go..and that feature alone would sell me. You get far more space in a minivan, and with the Chrysler vans both rows can fold away in a couple seconds. Combine this with tons of storage features and plenty of convenience features, it's easy to see why smart people who aren't obsessed with being hip, yo. buy them. Down the line my driveway will certainly have one of these.

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It's the same snobby writers who aided and abetted the rise of SUVs that are complicit in the rise of 'cross-overs.'

How many more times are we going to reinvent the station wagon?

Minivans are the best of all worlds for a family. Hopefully, GM will soon start offering their better offerings from Europe.

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The longer I drive the Roadmaster Estate, the more I think that type of vehicle needs to make a reappearance. It has versatility that rivals the Avalanche. It had "stow and go" and "in bed trunk" before either were a twinkle in Chrysler's and Honda's eye respectively.

If GM could design a modern version of this car with all the same capabilities, including the all important ability to haul a 4x8 sheet of whatever, make it unibody, make it RWD or AWD, and put a decent V6 in it, they'd clean house.

Trouble is, everyone would want it to handle like a 3-series and it would get blasted for not having a sub-4 second 0-60 time.

edit: Chrysler came close with the Magnum. I loved the looks from the outside. It was the terrible interior that killed it for me.

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The Journey replaced the SWB Caravan, as enzl pointed out.

For several years we used the Shadows (then the Intrepid and Prizm) instead of the Caravan, however after getting the T&C we once again grew appreciative of just how useful and efficient a Minivan is. Nothing beats them for practicality. Our current `07 Grand Caravan rental has Stow `n Go..and that feature alone would sell me. You get far more space in a minivan, and with the Chrysler vans both rows can fold away in a couple seconds. Combine this with tons of storage features and plenty of convenience features, it's easy to see why smart people who aren't obsessed with being hip, yo. buy them. Down the line my driveway will certainly have one of these.

the virtues of a minivan are unbelievable. the issue here is the automakers have not figured out how to make them sexy. if they ever do (which is entirely possible if they just TRY) then i think the segment will rebound.

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With all due respect...

(I know D.F..... stow-n-go, SUV storage/cargo capacity w/out sucktastic-MPGs etc.)

The minivan can die a quick death.

If I ever needed to get a van it would MOST certainly have a SBC driving the REAR

wheels, it would probably have a black paint job w/ a big red hockey stick stripe, a

spoiler on the roof & a C.B. radio.

I don wanna hea' no jibba-jabba 'bout Front Wheel Drive, SUCKA! :mr-t:

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They do.

It's called a Dodge Journey...and the Avg. Transaction Price is probably $1,000s more than the SWB minivans were getting.

The mini-minivans (5, Rondo) are still a small (albeit growing) part of the market...

The Journey, and all crossovers for that matter, compromise styling for interior space. I know the old SWB minivans weren't exactly cool, but because of the low floor, high roof, and short hood, they could fit far more stuff.

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What I'd love to see is a ~2011 Odyssey with a 2.4 liter direct-injection engine (~210 hp), IMA (~25 hp), CVT, and a curb weight of around 4000 lbs. It could lose 500 lbs from lighter wheels (the current PAX run-flats weigh 75 lbs a corner), lighter seats, composite materials, leaner engineering, slightly smaller dimensions...

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The longer I drive the Roadmaster Estate, the more I think that type of vehicle needs to make a reappearance. It has versatility that rivals the Avalanche. It had "stow and go" and "in bed trunk" before either were a twinkle in Chrysler's and Honda's eye respectively.

If GM could design a modern version of this car with all the same capabilities, including the all important ability to haul a 4x8 sheet of whatever, make it unibody, make it RWD or AWD, and put a decent V6 in it, they'd clean house.

Trouble is, everyone would want it to handle like a 3-series and it would get blasted for not having a sub-4 second 0-60 time.

edit: Chrysler came close with the Magnum. I loved the looks from the outside. It was the terrible interior that killed it for me.

What about the post-refresh Magnum? Also I think teh Sportwagon would come pretty close. Howevr they only seat 5. Minivans seat 7-8...for large families or families who have a lot of people to travel with, you still can't beat `em.

the virtues of a minivan are unbelievable. the issue here is the automakers have not figured out how to make them sexy. if they ever do (which is entirely possible if they just TRY) then i think the segment will rebound.

This is the problem: They don't need to be sexy. They're practicle, no orgasm machines that should handle like a BMW and go faster than a Veyron. People just don' seem to get that. Buy a van, and buy a Sky or whatever...problem solved. When you try to add exterior "style" it either compromises space or makes it look weird (Nissan).

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dont forget the exposed headers 68 hehe

Fu$%in' right! :spin:

ateamvandu8.jpg

I'm tryin' REAL hard but I CAN NOT think of one other van that

can be described as "cool" or "exciting". This is the ONE & only

anomaly as far as non-sleep inducing vans go.

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The slump reflects what's going on in the wider U.S. market. Overall auto sales were down 8 percent through May, and big vehicles like minivans took the brunt of it because of high gas prices. Large pickup truck sales fell 21 percent, while large SUVs were down 32 percent.

Will this stupidity never end? Minivans are NOT big vehicles.

"The fact is that the minivan hit a particular need. Then, that same need was satisfied — because fuel was cheap, because affordability was high — with an SUV," he said. "But once you're stuck up there and you're thinking, 'Oh, wait a minute, do I need to be a little bit more rational and do I need to come down a notch without sacrificing much utility?' Does the minivan become an alternative to that or is it the crossover?"

Nope...

But I'd bet a ZETA BASED wagon or crossover would!

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The longer I drive the Roadmaster Estate, the more I think that type of vehicle needs to make a reappearance. It has versatility that rivals the Avalanche. It had "stow and go" and "in bed trunk" before either were a twinkle in Chrysler's and Honda's eye respectively.

If GM could design a modern version of this car with all the same capabilities, including the all important ability to haul a 4x8 sheet of whatever, make it unibody, make it RWD or AWD, and put a decent V6 in it, they'd clean house.

Trouble is, everyone would want it to handle like a 3-series and it would get blasted for not having a sub-4 second 0-60 time.

edit: Chrysler came close with the Magnum. I loved the looks from the outside. It was the terrible interior that killed it for me.

*Clears throat** Zeta.

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