Hammer Time: Of Man And Minivan

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

Want a cheap car? Buy a minivan. Even in today’s tough market, a minivan is a tough sell. A dealer friend of mine now has over 50 minivans spread out at four different locations. Not a single one sold so far this month. Only three sold the month before. In our business we don’t call that slow. We call that, “Yikes!”

It’s as if minivans are the automotive version of leprosy. Or perhaps the 2000’s version of a station wagon. Nobody wants em’. Nobody buys em’.

But should they?

If you took a unibody pickup… enclosed it… raised the seats a few inches… gave it front wheel drive… a ton of options… upgraded the suspension for comfort… and made it look like a beached whale… you would get a minivan.

You can seat seven (or eight). Tow 3,000+ pounds (in most cases). Enclose anything you want of real value in a safe manner. Heck, you can even stow 18 open cans of soda while letting your passengers enjoy an endless array of DVD’s and headphone fed tunes. Time flies in the cocoon that is a minivan.

For moms and dads, minivans have always been the road trip version of nirvana… and for good reason.

Except no one goes on road trips anymore. At least most families have low-tailed it since gas has remained at $3.00 and change. It costs an awful lot to keep a minivan running these days. Even the good ones.

A lot of other things have changed since minivans hit their peak sales of 1.37 million buyers in 2000. Americans are older. Poorer. Millions of jobs have been lost and nearly everything seems to increase in price in ways that the government can’t seem to track. While all this has gone on, hundreds of thousands have perished in the modern version of ‘oil wars’.

For the wars? Against the wars? Doesn’t matter. Only the most politically correct of big vehicles are selling these days. Even if those vehicles are far more wasteful and poorly designed. Automakers don’t push minivans anymore. They want crossovers, CUV’s, overweight metrosexual vehicles.

Let’s face it. You can’t even call a minivan, a minivan anymore. It’s a ‘lifestyle’ vehicle. A ‘family’ vehicle. A vehicle that is so icky in it’s pop culture connotations that you can’t even speak it’s name.

The deception of what is cool when it comes to a daily driver is just a small symptom of a much bigger problem. Americans are just slowly crawling back from a morass of media fed lies, poisons, and frauds. Deficits don’t matter. Wall Street is virtuous in its greed. Politicians can solve our problems. What does all this have to with minivans? I’ll give it to you in one word, representation.

The face of America is changing… and what we buy reflects it. While many of the usual purveyors of financial whoredom are still pretending that bad things are good, (high fructose corn syrup is merely ‘corn sugar’) many more of us simply know that all this shit just sucks.

Minivans aren’t representative of a bygone era of innocence. They reflect excess, bloat, and the one thing most businesses making record profits can’t seem to offer these days… commitment. Minivans reached their peak when the pursuit of family values and upward mobility seemed to be our country’s Manifest Destiny.

Not any more… families are now embracing a leaner lifestyle not because of want, but of need.

So who ‘needs’ a minivan?

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Toad Toad on Sep 25, 2011

    Lots of minivan love here, but not in the automotive marketplace. The preferences of internet car forum guys obviously do not match up to what new car buyers actually purchase. Vehicles represent the image that the purchaser wants to convey, and minivans do not present an image most buyers want to project...and I would argue, especially with women. Women (thankfully) usually want to project an image of youth, beauty, and sexuality. I just read a quote that today "teenagers want to dress like whores, and women want to dress like teenagers." Minivans do not project an image of youth, beauty, or sexuality; to most people they represent middle age, mid-life responsibilities, and being a matron of the home vs. belle of the ball. They are not sporty or sexy, and by association neither are their drivers (Julie Bowen of Modern Family being an exceptionally notable exception). Cars, like clothes, allow the purchaser to make a statement about how they want to be perceived. Minivans make a statement that may be more reflective of people that spend a lot of time on computers than the public at large.

    • Luke42 Luke42 on Sep 26, 2011

      I think you're missing the mark. I've been a dad for nearly two years now, and I'm becoming very comfortable with the role and I'm happy to present myself to the world as a dad. Even using your model of image-based human behavior, I'll be happy to drive a minivan when my Ranger finally kicks the bucket My model of this portion of human behavior is slightly different than yours. I see that some people are obsessed with image. Others are more practical. Myself, and most of my friends, are practical people who put form over function. Your model ignores the existence of myself and my social circle. To a practical person, a minivan appears to be a cost-effective and versatile vehicle. I'd considered a minivan before before, but didn't want to scare off any potential girlfriends. Now that I'm married and a dad, that's no longer a problem. I'm not obsessed with my youth. Your model suggests I should be. My youth was unpleasant and awkward. Now that I'm in my 30s, I have more experience and more resources and I'm really glad I'm done with that awkward, unpleasant, and sexless time. Plus, I get to hang out with my toddler-age son, who's turning out to be quite an awesome little kid -- and I can't wait to see who's going to be when he grows up. Your model doesn't seem to be comprehensive. Perhaps it explains the 30-something with kids who buys a sports car, or an SUV that never goes off road? Or perhaps it describes aging people who are determined not to grow up? It sure doesn't seem to be explaining the behavior of a minivan-buyer, and I see lots of minivans on the road. (Your model might explain why minivans depreciate faster than other classes of vehicles? But that's only to the benefit of people like me. :-) )

  • T.W T.W on Sep 25, 2011

    If you have two kids a good car,or a wagon, would be the default choice. But three kids or more and you can't beat a minivan, but you could make a case for the Mazda 5, Kia 5 or the Orlando for most families. The biggest problem with today's minivans is they're not so mini anymore, not to mention they're ugly with the Nissan Quest being right on top of that list IMHO.

  • Dave M. IMO this was the last of the solidly built MBs. Yes, they had the environmentally friendly disintegrating wiring harness, but besides that the mechanicals are pretty solid. I just bought my "forever" car (last new daily driver that'll ease me into retirement), but a 2015-16 E Class sedan is on my bucket list for future purchase. Beautiful design....
  • Rochester After years of self-driving being in the news, I still don't understand the psychology behind it. Not only don't I want this, but I find the idea absurd.
  • Douglas This timeframe of Mercedes has the self-disintegrating engine wiring harness. Not just the W124, but all of them from the early 90's. Only way to properly fix it is to replace it, which I understand to be difficult to find a new one/do it/pay for. Maybe others have actual experience with doing so and can give better hope. On top of that, it's a NH car with "a little bit of rust", which means to about anyone else in the USA it is probably the rustiest W124 they have ever seen. This is probably a $3000 car on a good day.
  • Formula m How many Hyundai and Kia’s do not have the original engine block it left the factory with 10yrs prior?
  • 1995 SC I will say that year 29 has been a little spendy on my car (Motor Mounts, Injectors and a Supercharger Service since it had to come off for the injectors, ABS Pump and the tool to cycle the valves to bleed the system, Front Calipers, rear pinion seal, transmission service with a new pan that has a drain, a gaggle of capacitors to fix the ride control module and a replacement amplifier for the stereo. Still needs an exhaust manifold gasket. The front end got serviced in year 28. On the plus side blank cassettes are increasingly easy to find so I have a solid collection of 90 minute playlists.