By on March 5, 2013


On a constant basis, emails arrive in my inbox with complaints about the way segments are broken down at GoodCarBadCar. And rightly so. All vehicles are not as closely aligned with a competitor as, say, the Toyota Camry is with the Honda Accord. We all see the potential for cross-shopping differently, so I’m not offended when an aggressive reader calls me an idiot because I displayed sales figures for the Audi A7 alongside sales figures for cars like the A6, 5-Series, CLS-Class, and Infiniti M rather than the Porsche 911, as per his request.

I often mention the fact that a friend of mine couldn’t decide between a Mazda 3 and an F-150, so he bought a used Ranger. No one would argue that the Mazda and F-150 are in the same class, but such are the whims of an individual buyer. Or how about another reader who wanted to replace their 3-Series with a Fiat 500?

There is, however, perhaps no segment for which borderlines can so easily be drawn as the minivan category. The most unique vehicle in the class more perfectly defines the term “minivan” than any other: Mazda’s 5, with its sliding doors and three rows of seating, is truly mini.

As a result of the segment’s easily-defined end points, its total sales figures are equally simple to calculate. There’s no debating which vehicles apply: Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Mazda 5, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna, Volkswagen Routan.

Sales of those eight vans are down 7.7% through the first two months of 2013. On the surface, 2012 had been a decent year for minivans, as total segment volume increased 12.9% in an overall market which produced a 13.4% improvement.  Five of the six vehicles which were continuing in production generated year-over-year gains. Four of those five posted above-market-average increases.

Overall, minivans were responsible for 3.8% of the new vehicle market’s total volume. Minivans accounted for 5.2% of the overall market in 2007, the final year before the overall market tanked. There were, of course, a larger number of nameplates on sale five years ago. Remember the Mercury Monterey? More than a million minivans (including 64,281 Chevrolet Astros and GMC Safaris) were sold in 2002, when the category equalled 6.6% of the overall market.

It’s long since been established that minivans aren’t the force they once were. Yet the growth recorded by some members of the fraternity in 2012 – Grand Caravan up 28%, Town & Country and Odyssey both up 18% – led some to believe a resurgence, however slight, could be on forming.

Now, we’re only examining two months of winter data. Anything can happen over the course of 59 days. GM’s pickup twins can outsell the F-Series by severely undercutting Ford in price. Prius sales can fall. The Volkswagen Beetle can outsell the Fiat 500, which can outsell the whole non-Countryman Mini Cooper range. Incentives, or a lack of incentives, can skew results beyond recognition. Production, supply, parts shortages, marketing campaigns can all play a helpful or damaging role. And minivan sales can slide 7.7%.

Even when we exclude the departing Volkswagen Routan and on-hiatus Kia Sedona, America’s minivan market still slid 3.4% in the first two months of this year. Sound minor? Keep in mind, the overall market grew 8.4% during that period.

It may not all be gloom and doom. February, during which minivans were responsible for 3.4% of all new vehicle sales, wasn’t as bad as January, when minivans accounted for just 2.8% of the market. Toyota Sienna sales are rising, so much so that it’s the top seller this year. Mazda’s 5, the enthusiast’s favourite, recorded its best U.S. February sales month in the model’s history.

To suggest that 2013 may not be the year of the minivan isn’t exactly the spotting of a trend. The continued rise of vehicles like the Honda CR-V and the rebirth of the Ford Explorer have pushed minivans to the sidelines, and this isn’t news. But if, maybe even when, you hear about crumbling Dodge Grand Caravan volume and the curtailing of Honda Odyssey sales growth, you’ll know that the winter of 2013, which was so kind to the Nissan Pathfinder and Dodge Journey and Acura RDX, was a harsh winter indeed for minivans in America.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

30 Comments on “2012 Was Kind To Minivans, 2013 Not So Much...”


  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    The reason that new car sales are sliding is because a lot of people bought during 2010-2011-2012 and don’t need more cars.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    The Grand Caravan, Town & Country, Odyssey, Sienna and Quest were all either refreshed or completely redesigned for the 2011 model year. This may be a factor in the gains posted by the segment in 2012. Now that these models are a couple of years old demand may have slowed a bit.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      Came to post the same thing. I couldn’t believe the author didn’t address that.

      • 0 avatar
        imag

        Ah – I see. This is the “Sales Analyst” who claimed that no one wanted to buy Mazda CX-5s, neglecting the fact that the sales numbers he was relying on to build his story were production limited.

        Looking at his history, that means that two of his four articles omit critical facts which completely contradict his primary narrative. I know we are not supposed to bash authors, but that is not an impressive record.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    These “mini” vans are largely full-sized vehicles. Am I the only person that believes they have abandoned the original market segment? I was given an early release Caravan in late 1983. This had the 2.2 with a 5speed manual transmission. We took five adults and one child through the Rocky Mountains in winter weather. It returned 25 m.p.g. and pulled all grades. Couldn’t you argue that the 3 is its spiritual descendant? Plus, it was about the price of K-car wagon. I’ve always had a soft spot for Mazda, and I hope they’re successful with this lineup. Hal Sperlich would recognize the idea and approve. As for the segment as a whole? I personally do not know anyone who has specifically asked about them and I’m from a family with 17 children between both sets of Grandparents. When anyone from my family has the need to move family-sized groups, they look to the SUV-CUV segment. They sure don’t listen to old weird Uncle David anymore. Too old and opinionated.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      Minivans are not unique in this regard. Over the last 15-20 years or so every segment has experienced similar bloat. Every new generation is a little bigger and heavier than the last generation. After a few generations the increased size is quite obvious. Models that used to be compact are now mid-sized. Models that were mid-sized are now full-sized. Full-sized pickups and SUVs are now outlandishly big and tall.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Cars downsized significantly in the late-70s/early-80s. Prior to this we have a very long run of buying massive vehicles in North America.

        The last couple decades of small cars were the exception, not the rule.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      As a 5 owner, I agree that the 5 is the only keeping the mini in minivan alive. And I enjoy our 5, it will be with us for a while, until I am totally sick of it or sick of fixing it. With only 30k on the clock as an 08, hopefully that day is a long way off.

      But we are shopping for a larger van in a year or so when our Altima’s lease is up. The 5 is a wonderfully versatile vehicle and enjoyable to drive, if down on power.But we’d like more space and notice I said like. With growing twin boys. I want a vehicle we can grow with and use for everything.

      The Mazda is fine for road trips and 28-30 mpg with a full load is nice. But it’s not that comfortable, there’s a fair amount of road noise and everything is wedged into the car where it will fit. Any larger minivan will do that better, except the MPG part.

      Going to big box store for DIY stuff works OK, but some projects still require borrowing a van or at least an SUV. This doesn’t happen everyday, but it’s nice to have the space when you need it. Carrying adults and kids with accompanying kid stuff( say a day trip with friends or grandparents) Mazda can’t really do it because the third row is only kid size and I don’t want to put kids seats in the rear row.

      So would we be carrying around more weight and vehicle than we need for the most part? Absolutely. Is that any different than hauling around an AWD or 4WD system that you may never need? Paying for offroad capability you may never use? I like the Flex, but no sliding doors and the doors are huge, same with a pre-owned R-class (as well as the unfavorable things I’ve heard about them). Subaru wagons are fine, but our 03 Legacy sedan averaged 17mpg in town.

      I just shopped all the available minis while at the local auto show. No vehicle offers more for the same money, especially if you buy gently used. Got a year to ponder it…

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Incentives are way down on the Grand Caravan I’ve noticed. Likely a factor in the drop.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I think the $20k 2013 Grand Caravan will shake up this market. It is not only the bargain of the minivan field, it may be the best overall bargain it the “any vehicle that will haul the family around” segment.

    $20k won’t buy you a stripped-out CamCord, or even a Sonata, but it *will* buy you a Grand Caravan, base, yet still decently equipped.

    It’s actually pretty amazing. I’m not even sure how Fiatsler is making money on this.

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      @eggsalad

      You may be right about the $20,000 being the bargain of the segment & maybe the industry, but the vehicle could sure use some marketing attention. I don’t think many people know about it.

      @olddavid

      Most modern minivans will match the 25 mpg highway of your first generation minivan, but the new ones will do so with a lot more comfort, safety and reserve power. The current Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna sport 29 and 28 MPG highway ratings respectively. Chrysler should try out the 3.2 liter diesel in the minivan

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    The 2014 Transit Connect holds promise. Still very much a box, but not as totally utilitarian as the current van. Current XLT Premium around 25k in wagon form (as opposed to strictly cargo form) about the same price as a Mazda 5 Grand Touring, which is top trim ( autobox only). The Mazda has HID lamps, leather with heated seats and moonroof for that price, not sure what the Transit Connect will get, since it’s meant more for commercial duty.

  • avatar
    Coley

    We have a TSX, CR-V, and an Odyssey. And three children. The Odyssey usually gets comparable or better mileage than the (admittedly older) CR-V. The TSX beats them both, but it prefers premium, so its cost advantage is mitigated.

    I’m not going to apologize for liking the Odyssey, as it would seem that some commenters are implying that I should feel guilty for liking the spacious comfort of a minivan. The 1983 Caravan might have been sufficient for a family in 1983, but back then we didn’t see the need to put kids (well, us) in booster seats until they got their learners’ permits. Now we do, so we might as well make it comfortable and be able to carry a lot of gear on our frequent road trips. Why not?

    And why would I get another (presumably bigger) SUV/CUV instead, which would still have less interior space and comfort than the Odyssey?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Your points are valid, but would it be so bad to still have the choice of a van close in size to the original? The continual upsizing is advertising-driven, where marketers trump the extra space as being better that their competitors. Americans are brainwashed from birth to think that bigger is always better, hence the continual push to big, big, big…In many ways, the minivan market has fallen victim to the same devil that made today’s standard pickup equal in capacity to the heavy duty variants of 20 years ago. You could argue that the market does not want the smaller vehicle, but none of the big players competes in tht rean anymore. Size “readjustments” in America only comes when gas prices spike for extended periods of time…

      • 0 avatar
        Coley

        I think we had a choice close in size to the original: the short wheelbase Kia Sedona. But it didn’t seem to sell that well. Your points are well taken. Someone once commented on this forum that Americans buy everything by the pound.

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          After the “Grand” versions were around for awhile, it seems that the SWB Chrysler vans didn’t sell. Couldn’t have been much price difference( guessing $1500?) between the short and long vans, why not get the longer van? The Dodge Journey was supposed to replace the short Dodge van because no one wanted them.

          It’s not necessarily “buying by the pound” to get a bit more utility from a vehicle for a small amount of money upfront. After all, that’s why I’m buying a van anyway, for space. Might as well get all I can.
          Within reason, of course.

          Interesting that my parents had an 84 Ford conversion van that weighed about 4800 lbs. An Odyssey Elite Touring(!) is only about 300 lbs shy of that. Of course, the Ford had a 351W with a 3 spd auto that was full of malaise and would only see 11 mpg highway or city (according to EPA website and also my Dad)

          • 0 avatar
            Coley

            Gearhead, I agree. Our Odyssey EX-L is around 4400 lbs. Growing up, my best friend down the street had the same Ford conversion van–brown, in six different shades of graphic decals, second-row captains’ chairs, third-row bench that folded into a bed, ceiling-mounted CRT television that got two channels, a removable pedestal table between the captains’ chairs, and aluminum mini-blinds AND velour curtains as window treatments.

            His family kept that through our time in high school, which provided for some fun trips.

          • 0 avatar
            gearhead77

            Were you my neighbor,Coley or were they all beige with a brown stripe package? Ours didn’t have the raised roof with TV though. It did have the table, as well as the blinds and velour curtains.

            Ours was an Elk Van conversion, just wondering if you remember what your friend’s family had. I remember the workmanship being pretty good for the mid 80′s, at least the conversion part. Just looked at some modern conversions at the Cleveland Auto Show and they are impressive vehcles still in craftsmanship. But I couldn’t imagine owning one. Unless someone does a 2014 Transit Connect conversion!

          • 0 avatar
            Coley

            I don’t remember. I think it was much later when I realized that the reason they were called conversion vans was bc an aftermarket company did the converting.

  • avatar
    BrianL

    Minivans are severely under rated. They return good mpg for size and nothing is more space efficient. Most (not all) of large CUV and SUV buyers would be better served by a minivan. My wife and I bought an Enclave in 2009. We love that vehicle. She wasn’t interested in minivans at all. A few years later, we went to an auto show and got into a Sienna. The sliding doors make so much more sense with young kids as does the extra storage space. If we had to do it again, we would have gone with that. Not because the Enclave has been bad, it isn’t. It has been great. But minivans (once you get past the stigma) make so much more sense.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    We need a ‘midi-van’. Something Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest/Mazda MPV sized. The 5 is too small (and not that comfortable); the Odyssey et al are too large for a small family.

    I was really hoping the VW Microbus concept from a few years ago would come to fruition….it seemed right sized….

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      I wish that Mazda offered the 5 with a DOT-compliant 7th seat, we’ll make do with ours for now.

      There’s an upcoming crop of 4 cylinder FWD vans: Nissan NV200 (aka NYC Taxi), Ford Transit Connect Wagon, and the Fiat Doblo-based yet to be announced Ram van. Since they’re meant for cargo, comfort may be lacking.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I had both a Villager and a Quest. Now I have a Dodge Grand Caravan. I liked my 1999 Quest,but it got no better MPG than the Grand Caravan, a couple MPG less on the highway actually. It wasn’t as quick as my 2006 grand Caravan (and not even in the same balpark as the new ones. Finally, the Quest understeered like a m-f once you got over about 60 mph.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I haven’t been to the Good Car Bad Car site in over half year precisely because of the awful demarcations that ruined great data sets. I see things have improved somewhat since I was last on the site. I no longer need to several browser pages to compare Equus sales against XTS and S-Class. I hope they make the site easier to navigate, but I’m not holding my breath, and frankly I’m not going to bother to check.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      @WaftableTorque Make your voice heard, as other readers do. We take the considerations of all readers (at least the ones who get in touch) into account. I can’t promise that just because you want a chart comparing F-Series sales with sales of the Fiat 500 that there’ll be a monthly recap of such info, but one never knows. (The Mini crowd asked for a model-by-model breakdown, and they got one, monthly.) As for the ease of comparing one vehicle with another, use the All Vehicle Rankings. Every nameplate is ranked by year-to-date (and now monthly) sales in a sortable table which has the ability to show each vehicle in alphabetical order. Please, feel free to email your concerns and we’ll do our best to either fill you in on the best way to find the sales stats you’re looking for or address the issues some other way. This marks the end of a long reply on someone else’s website. http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/p/contact_26.html

      • 0 avatar
        WaftableTorque

        Thank you for your reply. It’s not often that sites solicit feedback. Your data is very valuable, but could be more so if accessibility was improved.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    A 10+ year old minivan represents the best deal you can get on a family vehicle these days. Bar none.

    Just make sure the transmission has already been rebuilt. Also, don’t buy a Toyota or Honda because they go for a ridiculous premium. The Ford Windstar should be avoided altogether and before I forget to mention it, the GM models had fairly horrific crash ratings. Plus that 3.4 Liter engine is quite a bitch to service.

    Then let’s consider the salient fact that it’s virtually impossible to find a good junkyard transmission for any 1996-2000 Chrysler minivan. The last generation MPV was designed by weirdos who hated kids, and the Nissan Quest / Mercury Villager was about as popular as Elliot Spitzer at a Southern Baptist Convention.

    Therefore, if you want to buy a great minivan, go get a Sedona.

    (whisper… whisper… whisper…)

    What’s that? Oh, I have just been informed that these vehicles were truly defect ridden pieces of j-u-n-k during their first generation as well. The headliner and interior trim pieces fell off the proverbial wagon more frequently than Liza Minelli at an awards show. The sliding doors would screw up with stunning regularity. Crappy transmissions. Interior materials that reminded you of tupperware.

    I guess the only minivan I can recommend to all of you is a 1983 Dodge Caravan with the 2.2 Liter engine and the 5-speed handshaker. Preferably one that can have the second and third row seats fold into a bed.

    Good luck!

  • avatar
    M. Ellis

    I wouldn’t own one (mostly because we’re a one car family these days, and as long as I work at home that’s going to be the case unless I get a toy in the Miata/FR-S/used Cayman line of things), but renting Minivans for long road trips is the best thing ever. As long as it’s in good shape and it wasn’t last used to haul wet barnyard animals, they get perfectly acceptable milege, swallow amazing amounts of stuff, and they’re very comfortable and livable at 70 on I-Whatever.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    “…but renting Minivans for long road trips is the best thing ever”

    True, they are a rental staple, especially in vacation sites. Thus, many used vans at attractive prices.

  • avatar
    WestwardGeoff

    I use my ’05 Sienna as a light-duty pickup for home center and dump runs. It’s crossed the country a few times, averaging 26 MPG despite being loaded-down with a roof box, four people and lots of stuff we didn’t want packed in a moving truck. As good as it’s been, I sometimes wish Toyota still made the supercharged 4WD Previa. Mid-engine design and 600 lbs. lighter than my Sienna, too.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States