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. Fri, 31 Jul 2015 21:47:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 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 » minivans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Dodge Grand Caravan Continuing Into 2017 Model Year http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/dodge-grand-caravan-continuing-into-2017-model-year/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/dodge-grand-caravan-continuing-into-2017-model-year/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1097873 Mourning over the loss of the Dodge Grand Caravan? You won’t need to pour a 40 out for your homie yet, as production will go on through the 2017 model year. Per an internal document unearthed by Automotive News‘s sources, FCA will continue production of the minivan alongside the redesigned Chrysler Town & Country set […]

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2015 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT Blacktop Package

Mourning over the loss of the Dodge Grand Caravan? You won’t need to pour a 40 out for your homie yet, as production will go on through the 2017 model year.

Per an internal document unearthed by Automotive News‘s sources, FCA will continue production of the minivan alongside the redesigned Chrysler Town & Country set to hit the line February 29, 2016. The 2017 model — bearing the same code as the 2015 edition — will join the T&C August 23 of the same year.

The continuation of the Grand Caravan — originally slated to end in 2016 — may be a hedge against losing market share over the T&C’s new look, and would also meet demand in Canada and from fleet owners.

A representative reiterated the Grand Caravan would eventually be discontinued, adding no further details on the continuation could be given at this time.

(Photo credit: Dodge)

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U.S. Minivan Sales – March 2015 YTD – Cain’s Segments http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/u-s-minivan-sales-march-2015-ytd-cains-segments/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/u-s-minivan-sales-march-2015-ytd-cains-segments/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 12:56:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1043866 Minivans accounted for only 2.7% of the U.S. auto industry’s new vehicle volume in March 2015, a sharp drop from the 3.5% achieved by the category one year earlier. First-quarter sales of minivans in 2015 were down 12%, and the segment’s share of the industry’s new vehicle volume tumbled to 2.8% from 3.4% in the […]

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2015 Toyota Sienna SEMinivans accounted for only 2.7% of the U.S. auto industry’s new vehicle volume in March 2015, a sharp drop from the 3.5% achieved by the category one year earlier.

First-quarter sales of minivans in 2015 were down 12%, and the segment’s share of the industry’s new vehicle volume tumbled to 2.8% from 3.4% in the first-quarter of 2014, a period in which total minivan volume had risen 5%, year-over-year.

Two key factors are at play in the minivan segment’s U.S. decline in early 2015. Primarily, a retooling of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plant in Windsor, Ontario, is disrupting the sale of the two vans that led the category at this time a year ago and throughout the 2014 calendar year.

Second, the discontinuation of the Mazda 5 spells the end of America’s true, one-vehicle “mini”-van category. 5 sales were basically cut in half in the month of March, a drop of nearly 1000 units.

Minivan
March
2015
March
2014
%
Change
2015 YTD
2014 YTD
%
Change
Chrysler Town & Country
5,489 13,242 -58.5% 19,874 28,994 -31.5%
Dodge Grand Caravan
5,960 14,165 -57.9% 16,918 32,025 -47.2%
Honda Odyssey
11,142 11,008 1.2% 27,088 27,832 -2.7%
Kia Sedona
3,638 641 468% 7,670 1,539 398%
Mazda 5
1,063 2,016 -47.3% 4,003 4,988 -19.7%
Nissan Quest
905 1,559 -42.0% 2,289 3,319 -31.0%
Toyota Sienna
12,855 11,027 16.6% 32,723 26,087 25.4%
Volkswagen Routan
209 -100% 797 -100%
Total
41,052
53,867 -23.8%  110,565 125,581 -12.0%

 The signs of life in the industry are readily observable. Kia’s launch of the third-generation Sedona resulted in a sales spike for the category’s newest entrant, but even with a 468% improvement in March, for example, the Sedona was only the fifth-ranked nameplate in a seven-nameplate (and shrinking) category. Nevertheless, it’s a well-received product, and if the category doesn’t completely dry up and disappear – which it won’t – Kia is setting the stage for a gradual ascent. For now, the Sedona’s 8.9% March market share and 6.9% first-quarter share place the Kia well back of the segment leaders.

The Toyota Sienna’s best-selling status required no asterisks in March. Not only did the Sienna outsell the individual FCA nameplates, Grand Caravan and Town & Country, but it outsold the pair as a combined duo. Sienna sales are up 25% in 2015, a refreshed year for the third-generation Sienna, and March volume jumped 17% to 12,855 units, 1406 better than the Chrysler/Dodge tandem managed. The Sienna was America’s best-selling minivan in each of the four months leading up to March, as well.

Honda Odyssey sales have declined slightly in early 2015 but perked up marginally in the month of March, specifically. 2014 ended with a 5% Odyssey decline and a three-year low in terms of U.S. volume. (Sienna sales rose to a seven-year high in 2014.)

Regardless, both the Sienna and Odyssey have an opportunity to grab greater sales in 2015, at least with potential Chrysler/Dodge buyers who weren’t looking for the absolute least expensive minivan in America.

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

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FCA Planning Industry-First PHEV Minivan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/fca-planning-industry-first-phev-minivan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/fca-planning-industry-first-phev-minivan/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1028273 FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne hasn’t been too enamored with electrification, especially with the Fiat 500e, but he now has his sights set on a PHEV minivan. Detroit Free Press reports the PHEV would be the company’s third overall attempt to market such a vehicle, following the 1993-1995 $120,000 TEVan — built on the same line […]

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2015 Chrysler Town & Country

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne hasn’t been too enamored with electrification, especially with the Fiat 500e, but he now has his sights set on a PHEV minivan.

Detroit Free Press reports the PHEV would be the company’s third overall attempt to market such a vehicle, following the 1993-1995 $120,000 TEVan — built on the same line in Windsor as the standard minivans — and the 1997 EPIC electric minivan with a range of 120 miles delivered by its advanced lead acid batteries. The new PHEV minivan would also be the first hybrid minivan of any sort to come to market since the hybrid category’s U.S. debut in MY 2000, and would spawn a PHEV crossover to debut in 2017.

While the PHEV would provide improved city fuel economy in its role as a family shuttle, placement of the battery pack would have to be sorted due to the automaker’s signature Stow ‘n Go seating and storage system. Pricing is another concern, especially as the next generation of FCA minivans will be a Chrysler product; Chrysler’s Town & Country has commanded higher transaction prices over the Dodge Grand Caravan.

FCA also has to present a case to hybrid consumers who wouldn’t normally consider its brands, the result of not having hybrids throughout the range, with the PHEV minivan likely cannibalizing sales from the automaker’s traditional minivan consumers.

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Chart Of The Day: Is Minivan Fuel Mileage A Big Part Of The Problem? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/chart-day-minivan-fuel-mileage-big-part-problem/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/chart-day-minivan-fuel-mileage-big-part-problem/#comments Sat, 21 Feb 2015 13:21:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1004658 “America’s minivan segment generated only 3.4% of the U.S. auto industry’s new vehicle volume in 2014, down from 5.2% in 2007.” So said I earlier this week in my review of the updated 2015 Toyota Sienna, the only remaining all-wheel-drive minivan. The Sienna was America’s top-selling minivan in each of the last three months. And […]

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Minivan fuel economy chart 2015“America’s minivan segment generated only 3.4% of the U.S. auto industry’s new vehicle volume in 2014, down from 5.2% in 2007.”

So said I earlier this week in my review of the updated 2015 Toyota Sienna, the only remaining all-wheel-drive minivan.

The Sienna was America’s top-selling minivan in each of the last three months. And although the accompanying chart displays its official EPA mileage ratings at 16/23 mpg on the city and highway, front-wheel-drive Siennas are rated at 18/25. Forget the 14.4 mpg we saw during our test. Temperatures were brutal, the vehicle spent much of its time idling as we attempted to clear it (along with every other car on the street) of multiple inches of ice, the city streets on which the Sienna spent most of its stay were mostly snow-covered, and the van was fresh off the assembly line.

But could we have reasonably expected more than 16 mpg in city driving? Not according to the EPA.

A 2005 all-wheel-drive Sienna was also rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city, and it was marked down on the highway by just one mpg compared with our 2015 version. But at that time, the most efficient 4WD Ford F-150 was rated at 13 mpg in the city.

Pickup trucks have made massive progress. Ford’s 2.7L EcoBoost V6 is rated at 18 mpg in 4WD trim today.

Minivans are impressive vehicles. But are we surprised that in a relatively em-pee-gee-conscious society, a dearth of progress will be rewarded when other vehicle categories are leaping forward?

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

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Capsule Review: 2015 Toyota Sienna AWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/capsule-review-2015-toyota-sienna-awd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/capsule-review-2015-toyota-sienna-awd/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 13:43:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1002178 America’s minivan segment generated only 3.4% of the U.S. auto industry’s new vehicle volume in 2014, down from 5.2% in 2007. Why do automakers bother? Consider Toyota as an example. Sienna sales in 2014 rose to their highest level since 2007, but instead of accounting for slightly less than 17% of all U.S. minivan sales, […]

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2015 Toyota Sienna AWD winterAmerica’s minivan segment generated only 3.4% of the U.S. auto industry’s new vehicle volume in 2014, down from 5.2% in 2007.

Why do automakers bother? Consider Toyota as an example. Sienna sales in 2014 rose to their highest level since 2007, but instead of accounting for slightly less than 17% of all U.S. minivan sales, the Sienna’s market share climbed to 22.4%, and to 25% over the last three months.


• USD As-Tested Price: $47,495

• Horsepower: 266 @ 6200 rpm

• Torque: 245 @ 4700 rpm

• EPA City/Hwy Fuel Economy: 16/23 mpg


The party doesn’t have as many attendees as it did a decade ago, but the music is still playing. And because so many of the B-list guests gave up, it’s much easier for the remaining characters to be big, big stars.

Standing out from the pack still requires a measure of nonconformity, however. The Chrysler twins have their Stow’N’Go seating and value-oriented pricing. Kia has most recently plumbed the depths of their bag of styling tricks to release an eye-catching Sedona with its own noteworthy interior configuration. Honda’s Odyssey sets a high bar for car-like dynamics and efficiency. Nissan, well, the Quest has basically been rejected by North American consumers. The truly mini minivan from Mazda, the 5, is soon to depart. And the Sienna?

2015 Toyota Sienna AWD frontAside from an aggressive SE model and an eighth seat which in some models can be stowed in the cargo area, the availability of all-wheel-drive serves to differentiate the Toyota.

Refreshed for the 2015 model year and loaned to us for a week by Toyota Canada, the Toyota Sienna offers its consummate experience in XLE AWD form with the Limited package at CAD $50,523.

In the U.S., this van is known as Sienna Limited Premium AWD, and it’s priced at $47,495 including fees. For those willing to forego a lengthy list of features (HID headlights, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear park assist sonar, power liftgate, dual sunroofs, rain-sensing wipers, navigation, driver easy speak, dual-view rear-seat entertainment, leather seating, proximity access, heated steering wheel), the Sienna LE can be had with all-wheel-drive for less than USD $35,000.

LE or XLE or Limited, adding an extra pair of driven wheels to the Sienna does force a couple of key sacrifices compared with the front-wheel-drive versions. There’s no eighth seat, no ottomans in the second row, run-flat tires only, and official fuel economy ratings drop to 16 mpg city and 23 highway from 18 and 25, respectively. We saw only 14.3 miles per gallon, but asterisks abound. Roads were snow-covered for much of the Sienna’s visit, temperatures were well below freezing, there was plenty of city driving and very little time on the highway, and the van was fresh from the factory, flagrantly broken in by the right foot of yours truly. Conditions were not at all conducive to forming accurate predictions of long-term real-world fuel economy.

2015 Toyota Sienna profileBut if an automaker ever wanted to impress a car reviewer with the one remaining all-wheel-drive minivan, a week during which consistent dumps of snow caused a city to buckle at the knees was absolutely the right time.

“Oh,” say you, “front-wheel-drive and winter tires are fine.” And yes, that’s true. I drove a couple of front-wheel-drive cars with winter tires during the same span of time, as well as an all-wheel-drive Ford Escape on all-season tires. The difference: the other vehicles, Escape included, needed our driveway at least partially cleared in order to vacate the premises. In a city like Halifax, full of steep hills and slathered in ice, there was a level of dexterity required for the other vehicles to get underway. The Sienna was unencumbered by such limitations.

Does a new Sienna buyer need all-wheel-drive? No, but on the shores of the north Atlantic in a winter that suddenly turned awfully wintry, the AWD upgrade was conspicuous in its effectiveness, not least because the system so instantly and imperceptibly shuffled power to the proper Bridgestone Blizzak-shod wheels.

On other counts, the Sienna is better than it used to be. Parents in school parking lots will continue to appreciate the feather-light steering, but the Sienna is noticeably less barge-like in routine driving. Gone is much of the float that beset the 2011-2014 Sienna, but while the updated van (thanks to a stiffer unibody with 142 extra spot welds, according to Toyota) is a superior handler, it still doesn’t have the finesse of the Odyssey. Nor is its ride as firm, thankfully, as the Sienna is as unflustered on rough roads as one can reasonably expect from any vehicle of any kind. Victory is mine, saith the 119-inch wheelbase.

Suspension noise too easily makes its way into the cabin, as does the growl of the 3.5L, 266-horsepower V6 when under heavy throttle. (Teamed with a smooth 6-speed automatic, it’s a decently punchy engine, if that matters to the typical minivan buyer.) Yet overall, the Sienna is memorably quiet, aided by Driver Easy Speak, which amplifies the driver’s voice for rearward occupants through the speakers, not so you can shout at your children more easily, but so normal conversation volume can be maintained. It didn’t work as well here as in the Highlander, however, nor was the JBL audio system all that impressive. Blame minivan acoustics. There’s an awful lot of vacant space to fill with high quality sound.

Space? Uh, yeah. There’s some of that. Cargo volume rings in at 39.1 cubic feet. The third row is fine. The first two are as capacious as anticipated.

The second row is legendary.

No, the middle seats don’t fold into the floor, and for some that’s the worst omission in the history of minivan features. But they’re not that heavy, and their forward/backward range of motion is a stunning thing to behold. Bring child to you. Send child away.

2015 Toyota Sienna interiorOwners of former third-gen Siennas will quickly spot the interior changes in the front of the 2015 Sienna. Improved material quality is appreciated, but the rearranging of climate controls, buttons, knobs, and screens are what really propel the Sienna forward from laughingstock to class-competitive status. The Entune system is straightforward. Better yet, in a season where the HVAC system gets a constant workout, the temperature and mode settings are finally sensible.

We’ll be reviewing the all-new Kia Sedona before winter ends. While it’s easy to criticize what we perceive to be a faulty Grand Caravan-cancelling FCA strategy, it will be interesting to see what comes out of the Windsor, Ontario plant next. That leaves the two top-selling Japanese brand alternatives, and the means by which you establish the class leader depends on priorities. Available all-wheel-drive and a gargantuan second row may thrust the Sienna into the winner’s circle for some, particularly those who fight wintry battles for three to five months. The fan of driving whose altered lifestyle no longer agrees with S2000 ownership will favour the on-road behaviour of the Odyssey.

Regardless, there can be little argument that these versatile, capable, expansive minivans (or should we say maxivans?) offer more vehicle per dollar than any other type of modern automobile. You may choose to avoid the $50K adaptations, but don’t let that be a pox on the overall Sienna house.

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

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Windsor Assembly Plant Readying For Extensive Renovation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/windsor-assembly-plant-readying-extensive-renovation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/windsor-assembly-plant-readying-extensive-renovation/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 12:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=996594 FCA US’ Windsor Assembly Plant is about to undergo the most extensive renovation since the 1980s, all to ready the plant for the automaker’s new minivan. Detroit Free Press reports the plant will be shutdown for 14 weeks between mid-February through late May so that 1,500 employees and 50 contractors remake 80 percent of the […]

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30th_Anniversary_Minivan_Windsor_Assembly_Plant

FCA US’ Windsor Assembly Plant is about to undergo the most extensive renovation since the 1980s, all to ready the plant for the automaker’s new minivan.

Detroit Free Press reports the plant will be shutdown for 14 weeks between mid-February through late May so that 1,500 employees and 50 contractors remake 80 percent of the 4.4-million-square-foot facility prior to the June 2015 pilot production of a next-gen Chrysler minivan that will carry on the minivan legacy once the Dodge Grand Caravan is discontinued.

Supply of current-gen minivans are expected to last until production resumes later this spring, the result of a six-day-a-week run during the second half of 2014 per plant manager Michael Brieda. As of December, FCA US has a 78-day inventory of the Chrysler Town & Country and a 67-day inventory of the aforementioned Grand Caravan.

Renovations include 822 new robots and a “skillet” line that allows floor workers to bring a body shell down or up to their height. The overhaul is part of a $2 billion investment meant to bolster the fortunes of both the automaker and the city of Windsor, Ontario, where the iconic vehicle has been assembled since 1983.

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Cain’s Segments: Minivan Sales In America In 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/cains-segments-minivan-sales-america-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/cains-segments-minivan-sales-america-2014/#comments Sun, 11 Jan 2015 18:25:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=974018 Refreshed for MY2015, the Toyota Sienna was America’s best-selling minivan in December 2014, the second consecutive month in which the Sienna topped its category. • Chrysler’s vans are the two top-selling minivans • Minivan sales hit six-year high But 2014 was not the year of the Sienna, nor was it a year in which the Honda […]

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2015 Toyota SiennaRefreshed for MY2015, the Toyota Sienna was America’s best-selling minivan in December 2014, the second consecutive month in which the Sienna topped its category.


• Chrysler’s vans are the two top-selling minivans

• Minivan sales hit six-year high


But 2014 was not the year of the Sienna, nor was it a year in which the Honda Odyssey could repeat as America’s best-selling minivan. Windsor, Ontario-built twins, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, ranked first and second, respectively, in U.S. minivan sales in the 2014 calendar year.

Together they earned 49% of the U.S. minivan market in 2014. That was up from 46% in 2013 when the Grand Caravan and Town & Country ranked second and third in the category.

The Volkswagen Routan disappeared in 2014; the Mazda 5 quickly approached its forthcoming extinction. The Nissan Quest was increasingly ignored. The Honda Odyssey slid from first to fourth in the category as year-over-year volume fell 5%.

Yet the size of the overall U.S. minivan market grew 4.5% to the highest level since 2008, when 13% of the minivan category’s sales were generated by nameplates which no longer exist.

Minivan
Dec.
2014
Dec.
2013
%
Change
2014
2013
%
Change
Chrysler Town & Country
10,709 9,737 10.0% 138,040 122,288 12.9%
Dodge Grand Caravan
11,253 11,226 0.2% 134,152 124,019 8.2%
Honda Odyssey
10,368 12,107 -14.4% 122,738 128,987 -4.8%
Kia Sedona
2,997 501 498% 14,567 7,079 106%
Mazda 5
759 1,167 -35.0% 11,613 13,884 -16.4%
Nissan Quest
685 868 -21.1% 9,833 12,874 -23.6%
Toyota Sienna
11,688 9,380 24.6% 124,502 121,117 2.8%
Volkswagen Routan
284 -100% 1,103 2,109 -47.7%
Total
48,459
45,270 7.0%  556,548 532,357 4.5%

Kia began selling their third-generation Sedona in the fourth-quarter of 2014. 61% of the Sedona’s 2014 total was generated in Q4, a period in which year-over-year Sedona volume jumped 524%.

The bigger change to the minivan segment in the next two years, however, won’t be the Kia Sedona’s rise but rather the means by which Fiat Chrysler Automobiles alters the playing field. For better or for worse.

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

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Small MPVs In Rapid Canadian Sales Decline http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/small-mpvs-rapid-canadian-sales-decline/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/small-mpvs-rapid-canadian-sales-decline/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 13:45:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=963074 GM Canada sold only 32 copies of its Chevrolet Orlando in November 2014, the worst month yet for the rapidly declining Mazda 5 alternative. Although the Orlando set an impressive sales pace in its first 18 months in Canada – 2612 were sold during 2012’s fourth-quarter – it’s been in free fall ever since. Sales […]

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2014 Mazda 5GM Canada sold only 32 copies of its Chevrolet Orlando in November 2014, the worst month yet for the rapidly declining Mazda 5 alternative.

Although the Orlando set an impressive sales pace in its first 18 months in Canada – 2612 were sold during 2012’s fourth-quarter – it’s been in free fall ever since. Sales have declined in 19 of the last 22 months. 2013 volume was down 68%. Through eleven months, Orlando volume in 2014 is off by 43%.

Initially, the second-generation Kia Rondo appeared ready for liftoff. Rondo volume through the first half of 2014 was up 62% to 3582 units. But Kia Canada sold only 1660 in the last five months, a 58% drop.

Kia sold nearly 10,000 Rondos in Canada both in 2008 and 2009, but without a big December turnaround, they likely won’t top the 6000-unit mark in 2014, the first time in the model’s history it will fail to climb beyond the 6K barrier.

To say the Mazda 5 has improved on its 2013 Canadian output is to say that the 5 is having its second-worst Canadian sales year since the mini-minivan arrived in 2005. Mazda sold 11,944 5s in its best Canadian sales year, 2008, but they likely won’t top 4000 units in 2014.

As a trio, these MPVs are down 12% this year to 10,115 units. (November volume tumbled 47% to just 510 units.) In a market that’s favoured each of them at different moments in the recent past, their combined failure to generate as many sales as, for example, the Honda Odyssey, is notable. Canada is, after all, a market that supposedly favours affordable, efficient, smaller vehicles, and it’s a market that’s registering more new vehicles than at any time in the country’s history.

Canada minivan sales chart November 2014 YTDThe affordability quotient plays a large role in the Dodge Grand Caravan’s overwhelming domination in Canada’s minivan market. Excluding the trio of mini-MPVs from the equation, the Grand Caravan owns 61% of Canada’s minivan market in 2014. (That figure rises to 72% when the Chrysler Town & Country is thrown into the mix.) The Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna, and Town & Country combined for 30,543 sales over the first 11 months of 2014; the Grand Caravan shot up 11% to 48,619. With an advertised base price below $20,000 and full Stow’n’Go pricing below $27,000, the Grand Caravan doesn’t just take the dollars and cents fight to the Sienna and Odyssey but to the Orlando, Rondo, and 5, as well.

True, November was a particularly difficult month for the smaller trio. Even non-Chrysler/Dodge vans combined to outsell the Orlando/Rondo/5 by nearly three-to-one. Small crossover volume was booming, too, with Canada’s four top-selling small utility vehicles – Escape, RAV4, CR-V, Rogue – rising 29% to 13,604 units.

But can we expect any major change in the near future? Americans have now rejected the Mazda 5 and the Kia Rondo and are not permitted to welcome the Chevrolet Orlando. Yes, in some small measure, automakers are willing to cater to the unique Canadian market, but when the products are faltering, flopping, and failing, we can’t expect them to do so for long.

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

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Cain’s Segments: Minivans In November 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/cains-segments-minivans-november-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/cains-segments-minivans-november-2014/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 13:45:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=962490 Despite massive year-over-year improvements, the Kia Sedona continues to be a relatively low-volume player in America’s minivan segment. But are the gains made by the Kia significant enough to make life difficult for the top four? Compared with November 2013, Sedona volume jumped 578% last month as a follow-up to October’s 251% gain. Through the […]

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2015 Kia SedonaDespite massive year-over-year improvements, the Kia Sedona continues to be a relatively low-volume player in America’s minivan segment. But are the gains made by the Kia significant enough to make life difficult for the top four?

Compared with November 2013, Sedona volume jumped 578% last month as a follow-up to October’s 251% gain. Through the first three-quarters of 2014, Kia USA had been selling fewer than 630 Sedonas per month. 2376 were sold in October; 3538 in November. The van’s market share through nine months was a paltry 1.3% as even the Mazda 5 and Nissan Quest were easily outselling the Kia. But in November 2014, the Kia Sedona grabbed 9.1% of America’s minivan market.

November was also notable for the name of the minivan category’s best seller. Toyota’s revamped-for-2015 Sienna was America’s top-selling minivan last month. November marked just the third time this year that something other than a Chrysler product topped the minivan sales charts: the Honda Odyssey did so in January; the Sienna in July.

Minivan
November
2014
November
2013
%
Change
11 mos.
2014
11 mos.
2013
%
Change
Chrysler Town & Country
8,055 11,288 -28.6% 127,331 112,551 13.1%
Dodge Grand Caravan
8,842 9,614 -8.0% 122,899 112,793 9.0%
Honda Odyssey
8,639 9,401 -8.1% 112,370 116,880 -3.9%
Kia Sedona
3,538 522 578% 11,570 6,578 75.9%
Mazda 5
407 667 -39.0% 10,854 12,717 -14.6%
Nissan Quest
483 768 -37.1% 9,148 12,006 -23.8%
Toyota Sienna
8,946 8,820 1.4% 112,814 111,737 1.0%
Volkswagen Routan
258 -100% 1,103 1,825 -39.6%
Total
38,910
41,338 -5.9% 508,089 478,087 6.3%

Of course, the Sienna only led the way in the strictest sense. Chrysler and Dodge combined for 16,897 Town & Country/Grand Caravan sales, well in excess of the 8946 managed by the Sienna and the 8639 sold by November’s third-ranked Odyssey.

The Odyssey was officially the best-selling minivan in America in calendar year 2013 but currently ranks fourth in the category through eleven months. Minivan sales in the United States are up 6% in 2014. Odyssey volume is down 4%. That just means fewer Odysseys in which to develop AMFS: Automatic Minivan Filth Syndrome.

As for the Chrysler twins, their U.S. volume plummeted in November but grew 11% to 250,230 units so far this year. The Town & Country has already topped 2013’s full-year total and indeed the full-year totals from any of the last six years, in fact. The Grand Caravan won’t match 2012’s 141,468-unit performance, but the year will end with more Grand Caravans sold than in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2013. Together, the Town & Country and Grand Caravan account for 49.2% of the minivans sold in America so far this year, up from 47.1% at this stage one year ago.

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

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Chrysler Twins Rank First And Second Among Minivans In 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/chrysler-twins-ranked-first-second-among-minivans-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/chrysler-twins-ranked-first-second-among-minivans-2014/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:02:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=932466 Only twice in the last six years have one of the Chrysler Group’s minivans been America’s top-selling minivan. America’s best-selling minivan in 2008 and 2009 was the Honda Odyssey, which also led the segment in 2013. The Toyota Sienna was America’s best-selling minivan in 2011. Yet through the first nine months of 2014, not only […]

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2015 Dodge Grand CaravanOnly twice in the last six years have one of the Chrysler Group’s minivans been America’s top-selling minivan. America’s best-selling minivan in 2008 and 2009 was the Honda Odyssey, which also led the segment in 2013. The Toyota Sienna was America’s best-selling minivan in 2011.

Yet through the first nine months of 2014, not only is the Chrysler Town & Country America’s top-selling minivan, but its twin, the Dodge Grand Caravan, ranks second in the class, 8431 sales ahead of the third-ranked Odyssey. The Chrysler and Dodge haven’t finished a calendar year as the two top-ranked minivans since 2005. 

Granted, even during the years in which the Odyssey or Sienna led the category, the Chrysler/Dodge twins combined for superior market share. We also know that these vans are fleet favourites, assisting in the generation of volume outside of a retail environment. Moreover, competitors produce higher transaction prices, especially the Odyssey, while the Grand Caravan is geared towards value-minded family buyers.

But the news that these twins combined to finish the months of March, April, May, June, and September as the two leaders of the category is pertinent given FCA’s intentions for their Ontario-assembled vans and the recent growth in the category.

2011 Chrysler Town & CountryAfter five consecutive years of decline ending in 2009, overall minivan volume grew 7% in 2010, 3% in 2011, and 13% in 2012, then declined 4% to a two-year low last year. Minivan sales in 2014 are up 6%, meaning the category is on track for its best year since 2008, when the Odyssey’s two-year reign began.

We published a chart just last month looking at the increased market share of the twins in 2014, rising from 44% during the first eight months of 2013 to 49% this year. With three-quarters under our belt, the Town & Country and Grand Caravan now own 50% of the market, up from 45% a year ago. Town & Country volume is up 19%, a near 18,000-unit improvement. Grand Caravan sales have improved by 12,501 units, a 14% jump. Jointly, their sales are up 17% to 212,411 units, 13.7% of Chrysler Group’s year-to-date volume, up from 13.4% at this time a year ago. (Including the Ram Cargo Van, they account for 14.1% of all Chrysler Group sales.)

Resting on laurels is genuinely thought to be a bad idea. These vans are in need of an update, and their consistently held status of sales leaderboard top dogs hides the fact that so much of their appeal comes down to price. (And Stow ‘N Go!) They’re the least efficient vans in the class. Their second rows aren’t as comfortable or as spacious as the seats in, for example, the Sienna. They don’t offer eight-passenger seating.

Nevertheless, it would be easier to understand FCA’s decision to severely alter the Town & Country/Grand Caravan model structure if the trend was heading in the opposite direction, as it did in 2011, when their market share decreased to 41.7% from 45% in 2010. On the other hand, should an automaker stick to tried-and-true product plans in a category that’s declined in size by 48% over the last decade, even if that category is showing moderate signs of renewed health?

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Next-Gen Chrysler Town & Country PHEV Debuting A Year Early http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/next-gen-chrysler-town-country-phev-debuting-year-early/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/next-gen-chrysler-town-country-phev-debuting-year-early/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 10:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=927345 Minivan shoppers will have a new option to consider in 2015, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne revealed plans to introduce a PHEV variant of the Chrysler Town & Country late into the coming year. Automotive News reports the PHEV will be based on the next-generation Town & Country, originally scheduled for arrival in […]

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2014 Chrysler Town & Country

Minivan shoppers will have a new option to consider in 2015, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne revealed plans to introduce a PHEV variant of the Chrysler Town & Country late into the coming year.

Automotive News reports the PHEV will be based on the next-generation Town & Country, originally scheduled for arrival in 2016 as stated by Marchionne during FCA’s investor day back in May. Other PHEVs are also in the works, including a full-size crossover for Chrysler. That said, Marchionne warns that electrification can’t fix everything:

I think you need to be very, very careful if you think that electrification, given its inherent limitations on range, especially in markets like the U.S., will effectively displace combustion. It will never provide the travel distance that you require, especially based on what we know today about the storage capabilities of batteries.

I keep on running into this fundamental economic obstacle of overcoming the cost equation of electrification. You can’t. You can’t unless there is a wholesale change and a fundamental shift in the pricing structure of cars.

The new PHEV, powered by a gasoline/battery pack combo, might outgun the Toyota Prius in the fuel economy game, according to Chrysler brand chief Al Gardner. The ur-hybrid in PHEV form for 2015 nets 95 mpg in electric-only mode, and 50 mpg combined in hybrid mode.

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Chart Of The Day: U.S. Minivan Market Share In 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/chart-day-u-s-minivan-market-share-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/chart-day-u-s-minivan-market-share-2014/#comments Sat, 13 Sep 2014 13:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=909258 Minivan sales in America have grown 6% this year even as last year’s top seller, the Honda Odyssey, has suffered a 4.5% year-over-year volume decline. A slight uptick in Toyota Sienna volume has helped, but decreased sales from the Nissan Quest and now-cancelled Mazda 5 haven’t helped. Minivan volume from Chrysler and Dodge, however, has […]

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2014 Chrysler Town & CountryMinivan sales in America have grown 6% this year even as last year’s top seller, the Honda Odyssey, has suffered a 4.5% year-over-year volume decline. A slight uptick in Toyota Sienna volume has helped, but decreased sales from the Nissan Quest and now-cancelled Mazda 5 haven’t helped.

Minivan volume from Chrysler and Dodge, however, has grown by 27,414 units, or 17.1%. Chrysler is on pace for its best Town & Country sales year since 2006; Dodge is on track to post its best Grand Caravan sales year since 2007.

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

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The Mazda 5 Is Dead: Here’s Why http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/mazda-5-dead-heres/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/mazda-5-dead-heres/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 11:58:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=900834 There are two ways of understanding why it was Mazda USA decided to extinguish the Mazda 5 from their lineup beginning with the 2015 model year. First, we could look at the root causes. Then we could check out the symptoms. The root causes are numerous, but it’s worth keeping in mind that for thousands […]

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Mazda5 front quarter 2There are two ways of understanding why it was Mazda USA decided to extinguish the Mazda 5 from their lineup beginning with the 2015 model year. First, we could look at the root causes. Then we could check out the symptoms.

The root causes are numerous, but it’s worth keeping in mind that for thousands of buyers, the reasons many would point to as cause for ignoring the 5 been overmatched by reasons to purchase a 5.

Compared with conventional minivans, it’s obviously small, but that’s exactly why many people have turned to the Mazda: it’s not a maxi-van. Fortunately, it doesn’t drive like one either, and it’s even available with a manual transmission. Yet it is far closer to being underpowered than it is to being overpowered. Compared with discounted Grand Caravans, it’s not necessarily more affordable for a growing family who simply needs more seating capacity. Speaking of which, it only seats six in North America, not seven or eight.

From the beginning of its tenure, the reasons many buyers would have for veering away from the Mazda 5 have combined to create sales figures which suggested the 5 wouldn’t remain in America for long. As Derek mentioned on Monday, only 22,021 were sold in the 5’s best year, 2008. Its share in the minivan market that year? 3.4%.

Kia sold 28,645 Rondos in 2008, and the Rondo was basically gone from the U.S. market in 2010, with 47 lingering sales to collect in calendar year 2011.

Mazda’s share of the minivan market rose to 4.1% in 2009 as the segment plunged 30% and 5 sales dropped by just 16%. In 2010, 5 volume slid 15% year-over-year as the top four big vans (Town & Country, Odyssey, Grand Caravan, and Sienna) surged forward at a combined 17% clip.

Mazda’s share of the category slid to 3.3%. 2011 saw Mazda 5 sales jump 22% to 19,155 units, its second-best year on record. The 5’s slice of the minivan pie climbed to 3.9%.

5 sales then plunged 24% to just 14,640 units in 2012, as Mazda claimed just 2.6% of the segment. Last year, a 5% decrease in 5 sales (and a 4% decrease in total minivan sales) meant 5 sales slid to 13,884 units, but its market share basically stayed level.

Mazda 5 U.S. sales chartThrough the first seven months of 2014, Mazda 5 sales are down 13% to 8762 units, and it has once again claimed 2.6% of the minivan segment.

Volume-wise, the 5 has not been a hugely important piece of the Mazda puzzle in the United States, accounting for slightly less than one out of every 20 Mazda sales. Mazda USA has sold nearly seven CX-5s for every 5 sold during the last seven months. The 5 generated 8.3% of Mazda’s volume in 2008.

The MPV, on the other hand, averaged nearly 30,000 sales even toward the end of its reign between 2002 and 2004. Another 17,634 were sold in 2005 and 11,600 in 2006, years in which Mazda sold 4761 and 17,109 5s, respectively. 13.3% of the Mazdas sold in America in 2002 were MPVs.

The 5 clearly wasn’t a direct replacement for the already-small MPV when it landed in the United States nine years ago. It has grown old during a period in which many expected Americans would be turned off by larger gas guzzlers and the anticipation of high fuel prices. By and large, however, fuel prices have not intimidated new car buyers, and buyers have turned to increasingly efficient crossovers in large numbers.

Moreover, the 5 is now a sliding-doors front-wheel-driver with EPA ratings of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. That’s a problem, as it’s competing with utility vehicles like the all-wheel-drive Nissan Rogue (rated at 25/32) and Mazda’s own all-wheel-drive CX-5, which is rated at 24/30 in its least efficient format.

Had the 5 panned out, a feat which would have required more significant design updates and improved efficiency, we would now be praising Mazda for thinking outside the box. Instead, Mazda didn’t hit the nail on the head, something we could say about the brand overall, too, at least when it comes to their sales performance in the United States.

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Cain’s Segments July 2014: Minivans http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/cains-segments-july-2014-minivans/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/cains-segments-july-2014-minivans/#comments Sun, 17 Aug 2014 12:48:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=893514 The Toyota Sienna was America’s best-selling minivan during the month of July 2014, although Chrysler’s minivan duo combined to own a far greater portion of the market. 44.8% of all July minivan sales went Chrysler and Dodge’s way, up from 38.1% a year ago. The Grand Caravan/Town & Country twins rank first and second in the […]

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2012 Toyota SiennaThe Toyota Sienna was America’s best-selling minivan during the month of July 2014, although Chrysler’s minivan duo combined to own a far greater portion of the market.

44.8% of all July minivan sales went Chrysler and Dodge’s way, up from 38.1% a year ago. The Grand Caravan/Town & Country twins rank first and second in the minivan category through the first seven months of 2014 and have jointly increased their market share to 49% from 43.6% during the same period last year.

Meanwhile, Honda, Mazda, and Nissan have all sold fewer minivans (mini-minivans in Mazda’s case) this year than last. The Odyssey’s 7% decline equals 5530 fewer sales for Honda; Odyssey volume fell by 2355 units during the month of July. Honda’s share of the minivan segment has fallen from 25.6% during the first seven months of 2013 – when it was the minivan sales leader – to 22.3% in 2014. The Odyssey was America’s 30th-best-selling vehicle overall through the first seven months of 2013; 39th so far in 2014.

The Mazda 5’s most direct competitor may now be the Ford Transit Connect Wagon, sales of which aren’t broken out from the overall Transit Connect’s tally. Ford has reported 23,889 total Transit Connect sales this year, a 2.4% increase. 5 sales are down 13% in 2014, though July volume shot up 68% to 1547, or 3.3% of the category.

 

Minivan
July
2014
July
2013
%
Change
7 mos.
2014
7 mos.
2013
%
Change
Chrysler Town & Country
11,370 8,060 41.1% 81,246 67,439 20.5%
Dodge Grand Caravan
9,473 8,583 10.4% 81,539 68,055 19.8%
Honda Odyssey
10,906 13,261 -17.8% 74,203 79,733 -6.9%
Kia Sedona
775 1,068 -27.4% 4,351 3,630 19.9%
Mazda 5
1,547 922 67.8% 8,762 10,023 -12.6%
Nissan Quest
786 1,055 -25.5% 7,156 8,004 -10.6%
Toyota Sienna
11,661 10,608 9.9% 73,952 73,167 1.1%
Volkswagen Routan
1 155 -99.4% 1,103 1,021 8.0%
Total
46,519 
43,712  6.4%  332,312  311,072  6.8%

There are major changes planned for the structure of Chrysler/FCA’s Windsor, Ontario-built minivan lineup, yet the current results suggest a real move back to the status quo. Traditionally, when consumers thought, “Minivan?”, they also thought, “Grand Caravan.” This trend has only been emphasized by the disappearance of so many competitors. (Chrysler/Dodge combined for just 35% market share in the category a decade ago.)

Of the 1,187,790 new vehicles sold by the five Chrysler Group brands so far this year, 13.7% have been minivans. America’s third and fourth-best-selling minivans, on the other hand, generate just 8.5% and 5.4% of company-wide volume, respectively.

These are important products for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in North America, and the boldness with which the company is planning to completely alter a playing field they so thoroughly dominate lacks the caution one might see from the automakers which sell the third and fourth-best-selling minivans.

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NHTSA Investigates Chrysler Group Air Bag, Ignition Issues http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nhtsa-investigates-chrysler-group-air-bag-ignition-issues/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nhtsa-investigates-chrysler-group-air-bag-ignition-issues/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 11:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=846881 General Motors no longer has the monopoly on ignition and air bag problems, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler Group over those very issues. Detroit Free Press reports the agency has opened two investigations into 1.2 million vehicles as follows: 2005 – 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee; 2006 […]

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2010-dodge-grand-caravan

General Motors no longer has the monopoly on ignition and air bag problems, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler Group over those very issues.

Detroit Free Press reports the agency has opened two investigations into 1.2 million vehicles as follows:

  • 2005 – 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee; 2006 – 2007 Jeep Commander: Faulty air bags; 700,000 under preliminary investigation
  • 2008 – 2010 Dodge Journey; 2010 Chrysler Town & Country; 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan: Ignition switches shifting out of “on” position; 525,000 under recall query

The NHTSA received 23 complaints over air bags problems, though none involved non-deployment, and 32 complaints about the ignition switch. Both parties are working to find any links to the problems, though no more information has been made available thus far.

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Minivans Making A Comeback, Minus The Name http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/minivans-making-a-comeback-minus-the-name/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/minivans-making-a-comeback-minus-the-name/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 13:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833506 Once the bane of soccer moms everywhere, the minivan segment is on the rebound in sales. However, the remaining stigma surrounding the name has some marketing reps doing their best to make sure “minivan” is verbotten down on Flower Shop Lane. The Detroit News reports the marketers are throwing around alternatives — such as “people […]

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Ford Transit Connect Wagon: The Unminivan

Once the bane of soccer moms everywhere, the minivan segment is on the rebound in sales. However, the remaining stigma surrounding the name has some marketing reps doing their best to make sure “minivan” is verbotten down on Flower Shop Lane.

The Detroit News reports the marketers are throwing around alternatives — such as “people mover,” “MPV” and “family truckster” — in an effort to make the segment cool for all. Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell, however, has reservations on such re-labeling:

Nobody wants to be categorized as a minivan, but at the same time, they have to let people know about how they can utilize these vehicles. The harder you try to convince people it’s not a minivan, the more they are going to think it’s a minivan. Just call a spade a spade.

While the marketers are trying too hard to “#unminivan” the segment, minivan sales climbed to over half a million in 2013 after a nadir of 434,000 in 2009 during the global economic superstorm’s early phase; sales peaked in 2000 at 1.3 million. Current offerings from the Minivan Three of Toyota, Honda and Chrysler dominate the market, though newer minivans such as Ford’s Transit Connect Wagon and Kia Sedona will add more choices in the coming years.

Though the segment had a homogeneous appearance for the past few decades, modern offerings seek to grab an ounce of individuality as far as what each minivan has to offer to families and young people. In particular, smaller minivans could bring new customers to a brand, leading to further sales down the road as situations change among those who enter the showroom for a “people carrier” over a hatchback.

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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   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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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.

sedona2 sedona3 sedona4 sedona5 sedona6 sedonda1

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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 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 […]

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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?

c2

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.

c3

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 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 […]

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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 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. […]

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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 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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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.

v-int0-1

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 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 […]

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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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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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