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.