Minivan Sales Down By Half Over Last Decade, But All Is Well?
Minivan sales in America fell 8 percent to only 513,000 units in 2015, less than half the number of MPVs sold in the United States a decade ago. Yet the number of sales produced by the three biggest players, across four nameplates, are more than healthy enough to suggest Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is wise to reinvest in their Windsor, Ontario, plant and the all-new Pacifica van.
Of course, the degree of wisdom employed by FCA as the automaker goes about reinventing its van is up for debate. Switching from Town & Country to Pacifica? Leaving the Dodge Grand Caravan to lumber along in previous-gen form? Neglecting all-wheel-drive in a gaga-for-SUVs market? There are upsides and downsides to each of these decisions.
But FCA’s decision to stick with a segment from which Ford, General Motors, Hyundai and Mazda fled is a wise one. The minivan market is much, much smaller than it was a decade ago. But if half a million people in America want to buy a minivan every year, the automakers which historically controlled the sector will want to own as large a chunk of that market as possible.
It’s certainly a strategy that’s working for Toyota, which generated more Sienna sales in America in 2015 than at any point in the previous seven years. It’s a strategy that’s working for Honda: over the last five years, Honda sold 10,000 more Odysseys than Pilots.
The worst perspective on minivans comes from a look at the category’s market share over the last decade. Not since 2004, when minivan market share increased from 6.4 percent the year before to 6.6 percent, has the segment’s share of the industry’s total volume increased.
Just three years later, in 2007, minivan market share was down to 5.2 percent. Three years after that, in 2010, minivan market share was down to 4.1 percent. In 2015? Minivans contributed just 2.9 percent of the industry’s record-setting volume, as total volume slipped to a four-year low.
However, 2015 was in some regards an exception. FCA’s Windsor plant shutdown early in the year caused a severe slump in Grand Caravan/Town & Country sales. Through the first seven months of the year, sales of the FCA minivan duo were down 45 percent, a loss of 73,000 sales.
Yet even without the FCA tandem’s decline, it’s unlikely the minivan segment would have picked up market share. Had Grand Caravan/Town & Country sales held level in 2015 rather than falling 30 percent over the course of the year, minivan market share would have totalled 3.4 percent, equal with 2013 and 2014, if not better.
Instead, seven minivan nameplates generated only 513,000 sales while 10 three-row crossovers (Enclave, Traverse, Durango, Explorer, Flex, Acadia, Pilot, CX-9, Pathfinder, Highlander) collectively topped the 1 million-unit mark.
For the minivan category as a whole, that sounds like a huge problem. For individual nameplates, however, it’s far less troublesome.
The competition long ago disappeared and took with them their potential sales. Thus, while Toyota owned less than 15 percent of the minivan market in 2005, that figure climbed to 27 percent in 2015. Sienna volume is 15 percent lower now than it was then, but Sienna sales are steadily rising, climbing in six consecutive years and growing far faster than the industry average in 2015.
Honda owned 16 percent of the minivan market in 2005; 25 percent in 2015. Again, Odyssey sales are lower now than they were then, but Honda has held Odyssey volume steady over the last four years at more than 126,000 annual sales despite alleged decreasing interest in the category and pressure from value-priced Grand Caravans.
Even Chrysler, which produced the two best-selling vans in the segment a decade ago, owned “just” 37 percent of the minivan market in 2005. In 2014? 49 percent. Yet again, sales are much lower now than they were then, but prior to the turmoil of 2015, sales of the Town & Country hit a seven-year high in 2014, enough to make the Pre-Pacifica America’s third-best-selling three-row vehicle.
The minivan market has cratered over the last decade, and sales of the top models have fallen, too. But amidst discussion of a segment that’s lost more than half its volume in a decade, it’s important to take note of the fact that combined sales of the Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, and Sienna rose 15 percent in 2015, year-over-year, as the industry produced 6 percent growth. Indeed, the two top-selling models in 2015 weren’t down 54 percent since 2005, as the segment was, but just 21 percent.
A 21 percent loss clearly wouldn’t be an ideal number if the trendline was pointing in the wrong direction. But for the manufacturers who stuck with the category, the trend suggests there should consistently be at least half a million sales over which to fight.
If there were still 14 nameplates fighting over half the number of sales in 2015, Chrysler wouldn’t likely be singing the new Pacifica’s tune. But in late 2016, we’ll be in a world of Pacificas, Grand Caravans, Odysseys, Sedonas, Quests, and Siennas.
Six vans. At least half a million sales. There are still plenty of buyers to go around.
Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.
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