The Truth About Cars » minivans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » minivans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com New York 2014: 2015 Kia Sedona Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-kia-sedona-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-kia-sedona-revealed/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:57:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=797706 sedona6

 

With a 276 horsepower 3.3L V6, Kia’s UVO infotainment system and a trick sliding second row (see gallery), Kia is looking to take on the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and TTAC darlings, the Chrysler/Dodge minivans. And, of course, the Nissan Quest.

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Can Car Sharing Work In Suburbia? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/can-car-sharing-work-in-suburbia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/can-car-sharing-work-in-suburbia/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=787705 car-share-parking-photo111

20 lawnmowers.

20 internet connections

20 videos of The Lion King.

Oh, and 60+ vehicles on one street.

I recently delved deep into one of the more challenging ideas of the modern age: car sharing in suburbia. It’s an idea that many non-enthusiasts and city dwellers love. But is it a good idea for suburbanites and the rest of us?

gigaom

If we’re talking about the traditional form of commercialized car sharing, such as Zipcar and RelayRides, then the answers for right now are,= “No! Nein! Nyet!”.

Most of these services cost anywhere from $30 To $100 a day, and at least $10 an hour. For most folks who have to take their vehicles to the supermarkets, restaurants, friend’s houses and all the other places that make up the modern day ‘to-do’ list of suburban life, these services are just not economically viable.

The financial equation can be even worse for rural folk, and for auto enthusiasts in particular who happen to live in suburbia. The thought of giving up our rolling treasures to the pirates of bad driving is a big-time no-no nadir.

But that doesn’t mean car sharing can’t work if you have the right long-term relationships in place, and the right types of vehicles that complement each other for occasional use. Let me offer a real world example.c4

 

My neighbors who live diagonally from me have a small truck: a 1996 Toyota Tacoma with over 250k. They are retirees, and most of their daily transportation involves no more than one or two people. When they have visitors, they also have a 10 year old Cadillac Seville.

However, that Caddy just doesn’t offer enough seats for grandkids, parents and gransparents. Nor do the midsized cars that arrive on their driveway.

So what do they do?

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Well, I just happen to have a 2003 Chrysler Town & Country minivan these days. Seven seats. Dual sliding doors, and about 125,000 miles.  I have known my neighbors for a very long time, and we have both seen how we drive and maintain our vehicles. At the same time, even though I’m a car dealer, I can’t keep small trucks on my car lot. They are expensive to buy these days at the auctions, and the rare affordable one tends to sell quickly once it’s front-line ready.

As for minivans? They have become the modern day unsellable car in my world. So whenever he has a need for a minivan, which is about once every couple of months, I give him the keys to my ride. And whenever I need to move a lawnmower, a refrigerator, or just recently, a $20 bench press and weight set from the world famous Blue Chicken Auction, I borrow his small truck.

c1

We’re not the only folks who do this in my neck of the woods. The neighbors who live down the street from me have a full-sized van with plenty of towing capacity for their irrigation business. They also have a trailer for their equipment and a tow dolly. What they don’t have is space to house everything without parking on the street and encouraging the local code enforcement dimwits to get on their case.

So I offer them free storage at the back of one of my shops, use the tow dolly or trailer if there is ever a need, and the local suburban Gestapo has one less target for their punitive fines and harassment.

The van, trailer and dolly are also used in that rare event when a neighbor needs to move a riding lawnmower, or when a car is laid down on the side of the road. We get the keys and move the heavy things to wherever they need to go. No need for AAA or a U-haul.

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The goal of this light version of car sharing isn’t to share one vehicle 100% of the time. It is to satisfy that occasional 1% need. So that you don’t wind up wasting money on a one-size-fits-all, high-cost vehicle.

 

Is this a better idea for suburbanites? The article here summarizes a lot of the benefits and pitfalls. But as the old acronym goes, YMMV.

So what do you think? Can car sharing work in suburbia…and would you be willing to do it?

Note: You can reach Steve Lang directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com

 

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Marchionne Closes Chapter On Canadian Minivan Plant http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/marchionne-closes-chapter-on-canadian-minivan-plant/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/marchionne-closes-chapter-on-canadian-minivan-plant/#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 13:01:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=773825 Chrysler Windsor Assembly

While celebrating the successful turnaround for Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Sterling Heights, Mich. plant, CEO Sergio Marchionne proclaimed the issue of upgrades made to the Windsor, Ont. plant with help from Canadian federal and provincial governments one no longer worth discussing.

Automotive News reports FCA pulled out of discussions with Canada over a $2 billion upgrade incentive package that would secure the long-term future of the plant after politicians referred to the request as “ransom” and “corporate welfare,” according to Marchionne:

Chrysler is not in the business of accepting handouts. And if provincial and federal authorities in Canada think that’s the way to attract foreign investment, I think they are in for a big shock.

It doesn’t matter. It’s gone. That chapter is closed. Fiat-Chrysler has moved on. The agenda, from my standpoint, is complete.

Regarding Sterling Heights, where the Chrysler 200 will go into production this week, the plant’s upgrade as “an apt symbol of how far Chrysler has come because of the courage and resilience of [its] people,” Marchionne explained. The plant was due to close in 2010, only to return to life through a $1 billion investment made in light of the success behind the restyled and renamed compact, and the capacity needed to fulfill demand.

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Marichonne Still Seeking Location For New Minivans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/marichonne-still-seeking-location-for-new-minivans/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/marichonne-still-seeking-location-for-new-minivans/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 11:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=741433 2013 Chrysler Town and Country

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV boss Sergio Marichonne, in talks with federal and provincial governments in Canada for loans to help prepare their factories in Windsor and Brampton, Ontario for new vehicle production, may come to a decision about moving forward with plans for where new minivans will be built by the end of March 2014.

Bloomberg reports that parent company Fiat is “not even close” to resolving those talks, with Marichonne hinting that he may take his business elsewhere, such as the United States or Mexico, if Canada won’t have them any longer:

“We’ve got to decide whether you want this or not. And if you do, I’ll be more than willing to stay. Global footprints are global footprints. I’m not using this as a threat, but there are some parts of the world that are desperately looking for capacity utilization, where infrastructure exists, is in place and is operational.”

The incentives sought for the new minivan production have been reported by Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail to be around $637 million, which would help Marichonne’s vision of an FCA capable of challenging larger automakers such as General Motors and Volkswagen.

Meanwhile, Canada is bolstering its Automotive Innovation Fund over the next two years by an additional $456 million (USD, or $500 million Canadian) over the $288 million (USD) already invested in six projects since 2008. The money is meant to attract all automakers in Canada beyond Chrysler, such as Ford, whose next-generation Edge will be built in Oakville, Ontario following a $640 million revamp by the automaker, and a $65 million investment by the Canadian government.

Though most of the Fiat-Chrysler merger has been worked out, Marichonne is doing all he can to remove distractions around the decision as to where new minivans will be constructed:

“We’re trying to remove all politics and noise around this issue. It’s a very simple investment call. We’re ready to go. We’re at the table. The car is ready. We’re ready to build minivans. Somewhere.”

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Cain’s Segments: Minivans Up! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/cains-segments-minivans-up/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/cains-segments-minivans-up/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 14:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=734385 TTAC_minivan-chart

The story basically writes itself. America’s minivan segment, which declined faster than the overall industry before becoming mostly stagnant as the U.S. automobile market regained strength, enjoyed a sales boost in January 2014 even as the overall market decreased in size.

Eight minivans combined for a 13% year-over-year sales increase last month as four nameplates – up from just one a year ago and one the year before that – crested the 7000-unit barrier.

Minivan volume increased by 3764 sales in January 2014. Growth which was slowed only by the Mazda 5’s slight 80-unit decrease, the Nissan Quest’s 25% drop, and the Toyota Sienna’s slight 1% decline.

Even the Volkswagen Routan generated more January sales in 2014 than in 2013. Yes, that Routan, the Grand Caravan copy that was cancelled ages ago and oft-ignored before cancellation. In fact, as Volkswagen sales tumbled in January; as every single continuing model other than the Beetle Convertible reported a year-over-year decrease, Routan sales rose to the highest level since last February.

This is utterly inconsequential. The Routan owned just 1% of America’s minivan market in January 2014 (just 0.4% in calendar year 2013). Its Windsor, Ontario-built twins from Chrysler and Dodge, the Town & Country and Grand Caravan, grabbed 43% of January’s minivan buyers, up from 39% a year ago.

Indeed, Chrysler/Dodge minivan market share in January 2013 was particularly low, which, in part, leads us a greater understand of January 2014’s segment-wide improvement. A year before last month’s 13% increase, minivan sales dropped 7% in January 2013, a decrease which assisted in making last month’s increase appear more substantial. Yet, the category’s total last month was also higher than what the same vans managed two years ago in 2011, when 31,685 were sold. Dodge Grand Caravan sales were down 10% from that period, however.

Ignoring the identical twins’ combined total, the Honda Odyssey led all minivans in total sales in January 2014. The Odyssey was the top ranked minivan in 2013, as well, although it trailed the Toyota Sienna by more than 1000 units a year ago.

The top four leave very few crumbs over which the remaining quartet can battle. The Kia Sedona, Mazda 5, Nissan Quest, and yes, the Volkswagen Routan produced one out of every ten January 2014 minivan sales, down from 12% in January 2013.

No matter the vehicle type, January is not a month on which to base trends. It is traditionally the lowest-volume auto sales month of the year. Weather is believed to have been more of a deterrent last month than is typically the case, as well. In 2013, January was responsible for just 5.5% of the minivans sold over the course of twelve months.

Meanwhile, sales of SUVs and crossovers increased approximately 5% in January as sales of passenger cars tumbled 9% and pickup trucks decreased a little less than 5%.

Minivan
January 2014
January 2013
% Change
Chrysler Town & Country
7056
6525 + 8.1%
Dodge Grand Caravan
7290
4965 + 46.8%
Honda Odyssey
7879
6760 + 16.6%
Kia Sedona
442
363 + 21.8%
Mazda 5
1800
1880 - 4.3%
Nissan Quest
735
978 - 24.8%
Toyota Sienna
7696
7781 - 1.1%
Volkswagen Routan
359
241 + 49.0%
Total
33,257
29,493 + 12.8%
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Mercedes Benz May Bring Next Gen RWD V-Class Minivan to U.S. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/mercedes-benz-may-bring-next-gen-rwd-v-class-minivan-to-u-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/mercedes-benz-may-bring-next-gen-rwd-v-class-minivan-to-u-s/#comments Wed, 13 Nov 2013 11:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=649626 1958785236913000288
Though the company is officially mum on the topic, sources within Mercedes-Benz tell Automotive News that it may sell the next generation of its V-Class European passenger van (sold as the Viano in some markets) and Vito commercial van in the United States. The new trucks go on sale in Europe next year and could arrive in the States the following year. If it were to be sold here, it would be the only rear wheel drive competitor in a segment that includes the Chrysler Town & Country, Honda Odyssey, Nissan Quest and Toyota Sienna. It’s also a bit larger than a U.S. market minivan.

The Vito, which is smaller than Mercedes’ Sprinter commercial van, would compete with the Ford Transit and the Nissan NV 200, which is also being marketed as the Chevrolet City Express.

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The V-Class and Vito share a platform, and both will be offered with all wheel drive. Four or six cylinder engines will be available. The new van and will have a more carlike and luxurious interior than the outgoing model, with features like wood decor, ambient lighting, advanced electronics and a panoramic glass roof.

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The Myth of the “Mini”van http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/the-myth-of-the-minivan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/the-myth-of-the-minivan/#comments Mon, 10 Jun 2013 18:22:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491494 sienna1

I recently got behind a Toyota Sienna in traffic. This is a fairly common occurrence that usually involves a) changing lanes, and b) speeding up to see whether the children inside are watching SpongeBob SquarePants.

Of course, the children inside are always watching SpongeBob SquarePants, except in this case, where the Sienna didn’t have its rear DVD player on. This is probably because it was an Enterprise rental, likely the result of a cheerful woman behind the counter announcing: “Good news, Mr. Smith! We don’t have any compacts, but I’m going to upgrade you for free!”

This happens to me constantly: I book a subcompact and somehow end up leaving the rental facility in a Dodge Charger with a 2.7-liter V6. The Enterprise employee behind the counter is always stunned when I tell him I don’t consider this an upgrade over a subcompact, or a compact, or riding around on my desk chair.

Anyway: as I passed the Sienna, dismayed that Squidward Tentacles was nowhere to be found, I noticed something entirely different: the Toyota Sienna is enormous.

When I say “enormous,” I don’t mean it’s “a bit big,” like one of those college lecture halls that could, in a pinch, seat everyone in suburban Dallas. I mean it’s so large that I couldn’t see over it in my Range Rover. This is tremendously distressing because I, like all Range Rover drivers, bought mine so that I could sit above everyone else on the road, at least until the air suspension collapses at the very same moment the electronic tailgate fails, causing a small fire as the Range Rover slowly sinks to the ground. (I, like all Range Rover drivers, would respond to this by collecting the insurance payout and immediately buying another Range Rover.)

When I got home, I did some research and discovered the following height information:

- Toyota Sienna height: 69 inches (1752mm)
- My Range Rover height: 73.3 inches (1861mm)

In other words, my Range Rover – the finest off-roader on the planet, according to my Land Rover dealer – is just an iPhone taller than a Toyota Sienna, whose primary purpose is to safely transport children as they watch a cartoon about a talking sponge who inhabits a piece of fruit on the ocean floor. (For those of you that think the Range Rover’s purpose is similar, that isn’t true: I occasionally use its capabilities to drive over parking curbs when I don’t want to back up.)

But the Sienna’s height isn’t its most concerning measurement. Today’s Sienna stands at 200.2 inches long, or – for you metric folks – a whopping 0.005085 kilometers. That makes it more than a foot longer than the egg-shaped 1990s Previa we all love so dearly, unless we’re a mechanic and we have to work on it.

1991-Toyota-Previa-1-1024x640

The expanding minivan trick isn’t limited to the Sienna. Compared to the first-gen Odyssey, which was only purchased by New York City taxi drivers, today’s model is longer by 16 inches, or roughly 454 grams. And since Dodge ditched the regular-length Caravan, the modern Grand Caravan has 26.6 inches (2.47 square meters) on the original model. Many of us suspect the Nissan Quest is also longer than its predecessors, but sadly the new model is too ugly to be captured by modern measuring sticks.

There’s also a width issue. Namely: the current Honda Odyssey is almost exactly as wide as the Chevy Silverado. Think about that for a second. The full-size Silverado, which – according to Chevy’s ads – was designed solely to help big, burly men round up cattle, takes up the very same amount of lane as a Honda minivan.

The very term “minivan” is, therefore, a bit of a stretch. That’s further proven when you look under the Sienna’s hood and discover… a giant plastic engine cover. But if you check the web’s finest source for information, Wikipedia, you’ll learn that under that plastic engine cover lurks a 266-horsepower V6 that displaces 3.5 liters, or approximately 12 degrees Celsius.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an epidemic: the minivan is no longer “mini.” The sole exception is the Mazda5, which is actually shorter than several minivans of yore. It also offers about the same power as the supercharged Previa, though none of the charm, primarily because you don’t have to lift up the Mazda5’s passenger seat to change its oil. And where’s the fun in that?

2011mazda5---1opt

Interestingly, families haven’t grown at the same rate as the minivan. Modern families are about the same size as their mid-1990s counterparts, even though their minivans have nearly a foot more room in each direction.

So I have to ask: why did minivans get so big? Is it all the SpongeBob DVDs they have to haul around? Or maybe it’s the Official Automotive Redesign Law, which states, in no uncertain terms, that every single new vehicle must be larger and more powerful than the one it replaces, until we’re all driving 800-horsepower mobile homes. (Or, if you’re Ford, an 830-horsepower mobile home powered by a 1.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.)

Either way: as modern minivans continue to grow, I think we should probably stay away from the term “minivan” altogether. That is, until I get my 800-horsepower mobile home. Then I’ll be able to see over the Sienna in traffic.

@DougDeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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2012 Was Kind To Minivans, 2013 Not So Much http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/2013-minivans-2012/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/2013-minivans-2012/#comments Tue, 05 Mar 2013 16:10:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=480172
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.

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Gray Lady Down: A Tale of Rescue and Redemption http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/gray-lady-down-a-tale-of-rescue-and-redemption/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/gray-lady-down-a-tale-of-rescue-and-redemption/#comments Sat, 23 Feb 2013 09:44:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478245

2003 Ford Freestar

To be frank, the 2003 Ford Freestar is a dowdy looking vehicle of ponderous proportions. Its short, squat body is purely utilitarian. The bulging fender flairs, which look like they were added as a stylistic afterthought, make the van look like a chubby woman in stretchy pants when viewed from behind. As a lover of cars, I should hate everything about it.

But I can’t hate it. The short squat body makes getting in and out easy for my wife and kids, and “utilitarian” means “good” when you are talking about a people mover. From the front, the van’s large headlights, sweeping windshield and square grill give it an honest, open face that is pleasant to look at and, the truth is, I am a sucker for a pretty face.

The 1978 Action Thriller starring Charlton Heston as your brave Captain

Inside, the Freestar’s seats are wide and comfortable and the amenities are on par with most other mini vans of the era. The middle seats are removable, while the rearmost bench folds into the floor at the pull of just a couple of straps. Auto reviewers might decry the interior surfaces, most of which are molded in textured hard plastic that looks and feels cheap, but every parent who has suffered a car sick child absolutely approves of hard plastic, and so do I.

In general, the Freestar is a nice place to be, so nice that I have taken to calling ours “The Gray Lady.” It is comfortable and quiet on the move, and the low dash and enormous windshield put the driver right out front. On the road, the van feels substantial and solid, like a 70s luxury barge, and it floats over the roughest of Buffalo roads with surprising smoothness. The steering is slightly on the heavy side, but it feels appropriate for the vehicle. The brakes are generally decent, but you do feel the weight of the vehicle when you use them. Short stops are best avoided in non emergency situations. My only complaint was that the power train felt unsophisticated. The engine strained more than it should, and the transmission did hunt around for gears or up-shifted into overdrive at times when the engine speed was too low to support it. For an otherwise well sorted vehicle, that seemed odd to me, so I decided to investigate.

A little research told me that the Freestar suffers from transmission troubles. Fortunately, Ford was aware of the problem and had offered a recall. Although the Gray Lady hadn’t suffered a problem yet, it was acting strangely enough that I decided to ask my local Ford dealer about it. Sure enough, a quick VIN check revealed that my van was subject to the recall, so I took it in. A week later I had it back in the at home as good as new, or so I thought.

Three months after the recall work was done, I was out with the family when the trouble started. If the van had been fitted with a manual transmission, I would have thought it had a slipping clutch. The engine revved willingly but the power wasn’t getting to the wheels and, as we drove along, the car began to gradually slow. Once I realized there was no correlation between my tach and speedometer, I began working my way across the lanes towards the shoulder and not 30 seconds later all forward travel had ceased. We were quite literally left to be Found On Roadside Dead.

2003 Ford Freestar Interior

With the engine still running, we had heat and power so we were all warm and safe. To the great delight of my children, the police soon came and sat behind us with all their lights ablaze while shocked passers-by pressed their noses up against the windows as they went by and stared at what they surely assumed to be the Corleone family finally getting their comeuppance. Thanks to AAA, a tow truck and then a taxi arrived a few minutes after the police and my reputation was saved. We separated there, the wife and kids heading home by taxi while I stayed with the van while it was loaded. I rode with the tow truck driver to the closest Ford dealership.

This is the point where I confess that I have a problem with car dealerships and that I come from a long line of Ford haters. The Freestar is the first Ford product I have ever owned, and I told myself that this would be a real litmus test for the Ford Motor Company. If I was treated poorly, I decided that I would never again purchase another of their products. Also, I told myself, that if Ford failed to make the grade in any way that I would voice my disdain for them long and loud to everyone who would listen and, thanks to the Internet, that number is considerable these days.

Fortunately for Ford, this isn‘t an angry screed, it’s a love letter. My local Ford shop was amazing. They were open and honest with me throughout the whole experience and, although the factory ended up rejecting the claim (the recall it turned out was for the torque converter while the failed part was a pump) my local dealer presented me with several easy to understand options. The bad news is that I ended up paying $3765 for a new transmission with a four-year warranty, but the good news for Ford is that my dealer also worked with me to keep the costs down as much as possible and, as a result of their effort, I don’t feel like I was taken advantage of. The van is, after all, 10 years old with almost 125K miles on the clock. Things like this happen with older vehicles, I know, so the fact that the dealer actually waived some of the labor was unexpected but much appreciated.

2003 Ford Freestar sans stretchypants

The main reason I chose to repair the Freestar is that we will be moving overseas again in a couple of years and it doesn’t make sense for me to go out and drop tens of thousands of dollars on a new van while our ultimate destination is still up in the air. Also, the Freestar is our family vehicle and, despite having two other cars in the driveway, the van is the one we use to carry our kids around and it is the vehicle my wife drives most often. I figured it was worth the extra cost of a new transmission to ensure my wife and kids’ safety. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and I still think so.

Today, six months later, the Gray Lady is still a nice place to be. The view out the front is as panoramic as ever, and the ride is still stately and smooth. Even better, my prior complaint about the unsophisticated power train has fallen by the wayside. The engine is quieter, smoother and seems to strain less. The transmission is wonderfully smooth and shifts decisively at just the right RPMs. It is a genuine pleasure to drive.

Like so many work-a-day vehicles, the Freestar does exactly what it is supposed to do: haul my family around in the most unremarkable way possible. Moreover, as detailed above, the one bit of drama I did have was resolved quickly and efficiently thanks to my friendly dealer and, although I walked away from the experience with a smaller bank account, I did not walk away angry. Ford passed the test, and as a result not only will I shop them again in the future, I will sing their praises for all who want to listen. Ford, you did a great job.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Will Minivans Bounce Back? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/ask-the-best-and-brightest-will-minivans-bounce-back/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/ask-the-best-and-brightest-will-minivans-bounce-back/#comments Sun, 22 Jan 2012 20:18:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=427698

If there’s one thing that enthusiasts and the general public can agree on, it’s that minivans are deeply uncool. The terms “swagger wagon” or “man van” may seem like oxymorons, but the minivan marking has seen slow growth this past year.

The Chrysler 700C was an interesting indication of where the segment is heading, although it would be a shocker if the Pentastar brand actually released a vehicle looking that radical. One Automotive News pundit seems to think that there’s a future in the minivan segment. We’ll leave it up to you.

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Honda’s Minivan Hip Replacement http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/hondas-minivan-hip-replacement/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/hondas-minivan-hip-replacement/#comments Tue, 19 Oct 2010 05:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=369349

Part three in our ongoing series features Honda’s Odyssey, and makes “hipper than thou” minivan marketing an official trend (remember kids, you need three to make a trend). Post-irony never saw this one coming…

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Minivan Design Origins Disputed: The Designer Of The Espace Fires Back At TTAC http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/minivan-design-origins-disputed-the-designer-of-the-espace-fires-back-at-ttac/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/minivan-design-origins-disputed-the-designer-of-the-espace-fires-back-at-ttac/#comments Mon, 29 Mar 2010 18:42:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=350662

In our recent 1984 Dodge Caravan Curbside Classic, we explored the origins of the minivan. The question as to who first penned the modern FWD people mover is a bit of thorny one, and one which has been argued endlessly. In that CC, I gave credit to Rootes (later Chrysler Europe) designer Fergus Pollock  for his work in developing a van project that eventually ended up at Renault as the 1984 Espace. I thought I made it pretty clear that his work was specifically on a one-box approach, and that I had given him due credit for that, whereas Ital Design’s Megagamma had the vestigial hood that ended up on the 1981 Nssan Prairie/Stanza Wagon and the Chrysler minivans. But designers are (rightfully) a sensitive and protective bunch, and I got a rather terse e-mail from Mr. Pollock setting the record (somewhat) straight(er).

Here’s what I said:

“Before we get into the guts of the so-called Magic Vans, lets quickly pick up the story of that other 1984 mini-van pioneer, the Espace, because it also got its start under Chrysler’s roof, but in England. Europe UK (formerly Rootes) designer Fergus Pollock, who later was senior design manager at Jaguar, developed a van project in the seventies, about the same time as Giorgetto Giugiario’s highly influential 1978 Megagamma concept for Lancia.  Pollock’s design focused on the one-box approach, whereas the Megagamma retained the vestigial hood that the Caravan also appeared with. Of course one can likely find numerous earlier designs, even production ones, that will be thrown at this argument, but the Megagamma’s FWD layout, package and lines are unmistakably apparent in the Voyager/Caravan, and to some extent in the Espace.” (emphasis added)

Pollock wants to set the record straight, in no uncertain terms:

Hello Paul, I read with some interest your article on the Dodge minivan and Espace. However, just to put the record straight I can tell you the Megagamma had absolutely no influence on the design of the Espace. The Espace was conceived in 1976 as a skunk project – it was not part of any cycle plan, but became a live programme after I presented the idea to Dick Macadam around the Spring of 1977. The whole point of Espace was that it was a one box volume. It was not only completed months before Megagamma was announced, but was light years ahead in design terms. This was carried through virtually unchanged into production – the Megagamma by comparison,was perceived as traditional and lacklustre, but became in the Prairie a visual bag of shit,clunky and old in the extreme. Get it right next time.

I like to be corrected, although I’m not exactly sure of my transgression. Regardless, you heard it from the horse’s mouth. Anyway, the key line in that article was this, at the very begining: “There’s nothing truly original in the car business. Everyone begs, steals and borrows from everyone else. Or sometimes, the same (and usually obvious) idea ferments for years in various heads or companies, and then suddenly appears in the same format at the same time in totally different places. How about the modern FWD mini-van?”

If Mr. Pollock thinks that he truly designed the first FWD one-box minivan, I encourage him to check back later today at TTAC, for another take on this subject. And I’d feel even more convinced about the similarities of the “lines” on the sides of both the Megagamma and the Espace, if Mr. Pollock could show us some early photos of his Espace, before it ended up for final development at Matra and Renault. Because it’s still very possible that they were added later. Can we take a look, Mr. Pollock?

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