By on May 9, 2017

2017 Volkswagen Touran - Image: VW UK

America’s mini-MPV market is dead. It was hardly ever alive.

Canada’s mini-MPV market is dying. The Chevrolet Orlando couldn’t make a go of it. Kia Rondo and Mazda 5 sales are 80-percent lower than they were a decade ago.

And if ever you thought North America’s mini-MPV market could be regenerated based off the strength of Europe’s compact minivan segment, you thought wrong. Even the Europeans — long lovers of small, family-friendly vehicles with affordable price tags, economical engines, and notable space efficiency — are turning away from mini-MPVs. In droves.

Why buy a minivan when you could have a rugged off-roader instead?

Or at least something resembling a rugged off-roader.

Granted, European compact minivan buyers seem to know the difference between a crossover and a mini-MPV with hints of crossover. Renault’s recent redesign of the Scenic brought SUV cues to the popular family hauler, yet those cues have done little to spur demand. European Scenic sales are up, but through the early part of 2017, the modest gains are what you’d expect to see from an all-new model.

2017 Renault Grand Scenic - Image: Renault

According to JATO Dynamics, the launch of a new Volkswagen Touran spawned greater popularity in 2016 than in 2015, but sales in early 2017 declined and the Touran is now under serious threat from the new seven-seat Tiguan Allspace. “We still see a solid place for Touran in our sales,” Alison Jones, Volkswagen’s brand director in the UK, told Automotive News Europe.

But is it more likely the Touran will eventually go the way of rivals? You’ll no longer see Fiat, Honda, Mazda, Seat, and Skoda competing in the Touran’s space.

Meanwhile, when Peugeot replaced the 3008 mini-MPV with an identically named 3008 crossover, sales doubled. Indeed, the new 3008 is currently outselling even the Touran, Europe’s most popular people carrier, according to JATO Dynamics.

2017 Peugeot 3008 GT - Image:

Mini-minivans continue to be numerous on European roads. Indeed, the MPV category continues to be a far more consequential segment in Europe than on this side of the Atlantic. In France, for instance, MPVs accounted for 7 percent of new vehicle sales in 2017’s first two months. But French MPV sales are down 16 percent compared with 2016, a year in which MPVs accounted for nearly 9 percent of the market. Likewise, Automotive News Europe reports, seven of the ten biggest minivan markets in Europe have seen sales fall precipitously in early 2017.

Again, the level of popularity, while clearly unsustainable, pales in comparison to the achievements of mini-minivan upstarts in North America. At its peak in 2008, the Kia Rondo/Mazda 5 segment yielded only 50,666 sales.

That was only 8 percent of the overall minivan market, and only 0.4 percent of the new vehicle market overall.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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31 Comments on “You Know The Future For Mini MPVs Is Bleak When Even The Europeans Don’t Want Small Vans...”


  • avatar
    Sceptic

    There are still micro “MPV”s – Nissan Versa Note and Honda Fit in particular. Very spacious 5 passenger vehicles. Mini 7 seaters have limited appeal these days as population gets bulkier/less flexible and simply does not fit in them anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Mini seven-seaters don’t fit anything well, fat/flexible or not. If you need to carry seven people, they have no cargo space and the people in the back need to be very, very short.

      They’re a niche that sounds great until you need to really use them, day-in/day-out. Where they work best is places where you don’t need to carry stuff, but do need to carry lots of people. The problem is that, in North America, that’s a rare use-case. It’s a little more common in Europe, but not very.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    When is something considered a “mini” MiniVan versus just a taller hatchback?

    I will say one of the biggest advantages I see for traditional American minivans is the sliding doors when you have young kids with car seats.

    If a mini MPV doesn’t have that, I just don;t really see the advantage anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Except once they loose that, they become more popular.

      I don’t argue that the slider is handier in tight parking spaces especially, but if it resembles a van, its automatically uncool.

      Personally, I would love to see the Ford B-Max here, but it’ll never happen. Can’t remember what it’s seating capacity is, I think 5 or 6, I’m not sure, but it has sliders. Its based upon the Fiesta platform.

      And, they cease to be tall hatchbacks when they can carry up to 7 people (without luggage) as most of these mini-minivan vehicles can.

      • 0 avatar
        whitworth

        What evidence do you have that minivans without sliding doors are “popular”?

        They aren’t popular in the US and it seems they are dying in Europe.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42


          What evidence do you have that minivans without sliding doors are ‘popular’?”

          Minivans without sliding doors are referred to as a “3 row crossover” among polite company.

          They solve the same problem as a minivan, and they have many of the same amenities — except for the big sliding doors.

          We’re on the countdown for the 3rd kid, and I like a lot of these vehicles (especially the new Honda Pilot). But,
          having owned a real minivan in the recent past, the lack of sliding doors is a serious drawback.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I feel like a big part of this is the shrinking family in the Western world. Who needs a 7 seat vehicle for a family of 3-4, if you’re even starting a family at all?

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I had a Mazda5 as a rental in 2009 and took it on a long, long road trip, just my wife and I.

      It was a fun car, and if you folded down the four seats in the back, there was this humongous cargo space. We had that back portion loaded to the gills with stuff we had to deliver to our adopted daughter in Zephyr Cove, NV.

      But the Mazda5 never caught on and Mazda quit selling them in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      That doesn’t translate into fewer 3rd row crossover sales. The Explorer, Pilot, Highlander and Pathfinder are selling well.

      Families of less than 7 will still often choose a 7 passenger vehicle (minivans, SUVs like Expedition with a 3rd row, now crossovers).

      When I was growing up, we had a family of 5 and we had a 7 passenger Aerostar.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Crossovers are more van-like then they were a decade or more ago; that’s why MPVs don’t sell: they’re being crowded out. Now, crossovers are basically MPVs with very slightly more ground clearance.

    Consider the Mazda5: when it first came out, what we’d eventually call CUVs were more like unibody SUVs. Mazda’s contemporary offering was the Tribute. Now they sell the CX-5 which does everything the Mazda5 did and more, except carrying just one more person.

    Or, Consider the Niro, which despite being marketed as a crossover is really just the same thing as the Rondo.

    Or the RAV/4, which went from “trucklet” to the reason why the Matrix was discontinued.

    Automakers are like manufacturers everywhere: they’d really rather just make one thing for everyone, not five different things for every niche. Even the Germans are scaling back on niches—it isn’t profitable when the blob-crossover is what everyone’s buying anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      “, Consider the Niro, which despite being marketed as a crossover is really just the same thing as the Rondo.”

      Except the Niro is a dedicated Hybrid, the Rondo was not.

      Also, the Rondo could be equipped to seat up to 7.
      I don’t believe there is a 7 passenger Niro.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I always liked the Zafira. I thought it would have fit in okay between the Eggcore and the Envision.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      We had one of those for the six months we were in Germany last year.

      We drove that little van all over Europe, to Holland, Belgium, France, down to Portugal, Spain, the South of France, Italy, Switzerland and back into Germany.

      Never gave us any trouble. Seemed large and tall compared to some of what was on the roads with us.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaMaximaCulpa

      Somebody LIKES an Opel, that is something you don’t hear everyday!

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    I always liked the Mazda 5 but would never get one because of the terrible seating configuration. For families with young children especially, three rows of two are a terrible seating configuration because it requires the sacrifice of cargo space to include a 3rd kid. Getting into and out of row 3 is also far more difficult than the middle seat of row 2 or a larger 7 seat minivan, and with small children who can’t buckle themselves it’s not worth it. The 5 has next to zero space behind the 3rd row making almost ANY vehicle that can seat 3 across the 2nd row a better family car.

    The 5 is great for the couple who has 3 dogs and wants no kids but they already drive Subarus.

    • 0 avatar
      statikboy

      The 5 was (is?) available in Europe with 7 seats. More poor marketing decisions based on North American obesity rates.

      • 0 avatar
        Richard Chen

        The Mazda5’s Karakuri seat wasn’t DOT compliant, guessing that Mazda didn’t bother spending the money to change.

        Ford’s Grand C-Max was supposed to come stateside. It’s one with dual sliding doors and 3 rows of seats, did have a nifty stowaway 2nd row seat:

        http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/C-Max-seat-in-a-seat.jpg

        Cancelled, of course.

    • 0 avatar
      newenthusiast

      I agree. Looked at a 5.

      Seating arrangement didn’t work, and used it in a real use test drive. Kids with me, got groceries. Plus the female salesperson substituting for my wife in the passenger seat.

      Up modest hills, not even really loaded (like say to go camping), it had anemic engine response.

      The size was just right other wise. Sliding doors rock.

      Better packaging might have save the 5 in the USA, at least.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Problem is they’re just too small to carry people AND cargo. You have to make a choice. A full size minivan (oxymoron) is not a whole lot more expensive and doesn’t come with that trade-off.

  • avatar
    RS

    Is it really a mini-van without sliding doors?

    These Micro 7 seat CUV’s suck at everything.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    Needs more Sharan.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    I think Ford made a massive mistake with the Transit Connect. The original version was something that I was interested in buying, but the timing wasn’t right. Once the timing was right, they had already turned it into basically tall hatchback car with sliding doors.

    The appeal of the original was that you had a proper cargo area without carpet, unnecessary plastic trim, or a piece of flimsy wood to worry about damaging.

    • 0 avatar
      eggsalad

      You can still buy a TC with absolutely nothing in the back. I wanted one, but I found the driving position extremely uncomfortable.

      But the small commercial van is dead in the water in the US. Sales are down 25% from last year’s YTD figures.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    Interesting to hear that Honda is leaving the mini-MPV market in Europe. Their Japanese domestic line-up is almost entirely mini and micro-MPVs.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As a satisfied owner of the previous generation Rondo,in many respects it reminds me of the Honda Wagovan that we once had. We looked at the current generation Rondo. Kia raised the beltline, lowered the greenhouse and in our estimation created a less ‘desirable’ vehicle. The previous generation Rondo has a high roofline and great sightlines. It comfortably carries 5, plus cargo.

    We would never consider it to be a 7 passenger vehicle, at least not for anything more than a quick neighbourhood tripw with young kids.

    The Mazda 5 was a decent vehicle for 4 and cargo but if you carried 6 there was no cargo space and in my estimation the rearmost passengers were too close to the tailgate.

  • avatar
    z9

    I once rented a Mazda 5 and it was perfect for the obscure use case I had for it: toting a bunch of people around Phoenix for a hockey tournament. These weren’t the people actually playing in the tournament, they were spectators, so they didn’t have any gear to put in the back. I remember it being pretty fun to drive, perhaps too much, since I was nabbed by a speed camera on the freeway.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    Choice isn’t all that good in Europe anymore either. As you say, Peugeot replaces an ageing MPV with a less spacious, more phony model, just as others do the same. I asked Honda Norway if there was a chance we could get the Jade. There wasn’t, since Honda Europe isn’t taking in a small MPV now. Honda has even stopped importing cars to Norway on its own – it’s now done by a private import company – so whatever strategy they employ doesn’t seem to work so awfully well anyway.

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    I think our next vehicle is going to be the extended Transit Connect 7 seater. Minivans are gargantuan and expensive. I don’t need 250+ HP – just drove our Prius C to Yosemite from SF and we passed plenty of cars on the two lane parts of the road. Got 50+ mpg too. The only problem with the TC is low fuel economy. Our household works at a smaller and more efficient scale than the average American household; our family car was a Passat wagon for the first few years we had 3 kids. 3 kid car seats would fit in the back seat. 40 cu ft of luggage space that was rectangular without interior sculpting intrusions.

    The TC in the 5 passenger configuration has 60 cu ft of cargo space. With 40 now, that’s quite a bit more.

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      We have one of those TC 7 seaters, though we usually only use the two front sets of seats–the back cargo area with the seats folded often holds my father’s wheelchair when we take the folks out. With the TC, the lower seat height is a help to older folks like them compared to some of the other vans. You’re right about the fuel economy–it’s usually in the low 20s in town, but it can approach 30 on the highway with judicious driving. I myself find that it seems to help to drive it in manual mode–the 6 speed automatic sometimes downshifts too readily, IMO.


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