By on January 27, 2017

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited - Image: FCAThere’s good news. And there’s bad news.

U.S. sales of minivans in 2016 rose 6 percent, year-over-year, to nearly 554,000 units.

Yet after shooting out of the blocks with a 23 percent increase through the first seven months of the year — partly a response to a slow start one year earlier — minivan sales tanked in the final five months of 2016.

Year-over-year, sales decreased in July, August, September, October, and December, plunging 14 percent over the five-month span. After claiming 3.5 percent of all new vehicle sales in the first seven months of 2016, minivan market share plunged to just 2.7 percent over the course of the last five months — a sudden and severe slowdown highlighted by December results in which every minivan nameplate reported declining sales.U.S. minivan sales chart 2012-2016 - Image: © TTACA clear understanding of 2016’s early minivan success only comes about after a look back at 2015. A sharp downturn in total volume in the early part of 2015 was caused by a shutdown at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Windsor, Ontario assembly plant, as retooling for the Chrysler Town & Country’s Pacifica replacement was put into place. Through the first two-thirds of 2015, minivan sales had decreased 14 percent thanks to declines in seven of 2015’s first eight months.

Against that backdrop of disappointing results, the early figures in 2016 gave the impression of vibrant health, as minivan volume improved on a year-over-year basis in each of the first seven months. Minivans were on pace for well in excess of 600,000 sales, which would turn 2016 into the best year for minivan sales since before the recession.

In the end, however, minivan sales in 2016 were more numerous than in 2015 but marginally below the total achieved in 2014, and in 2012 for that matter, when minivans owned nearly 4 percent of the overall market. But why did 2016 go downhill?2017 Toyota Sienna SE - Image: © ToyotaThe best-selling individual minivan nameplate in America, the aging Toyota Sienna, struggled all year to match the success of 2015, when Sienna sales had reached an eight-year high. In nine of the final ten months of 2016, Sienna sales declined (compared on year-over-year terms). Though refreshed for 2017 with an updated engine and a new transmission, the third-generation Sienna is entering its seventh model year.

Meanwhile, 2016 was the final full year for the fourth-generation Odyssey that Honda calls the best-selling retail minivan in America. Odyssey sales, not unexpectedly, fell to a five-year low in 2016, just prior to January’s Detroit debut of the 2018 Odyssey, with monthly volume declining in each of the last six months.

But it’s in Fiat Chrysler showrooms, where Chrysler and Dodge controlled 45 percent of 2016’s U.S. minivan market, where the decline was most keenly felt. Total FCA minivan volume plunged by more than 17,000 units in the final five months of 2016.

The transition from Town & Country (deeply discounted and fleet-oriented at the end of its tenure) to Pacifica (a far superior but more costly van) wasn’t likely to result in impressive sales numbers, at least not at first. But added to the difficulties of that transition was a Grand Caravan nosedive in the final third of the year. Grand Caravan volume had been pulled forward into the first two-thirds of 2016, as sales jumped 66 percent through August.

It remains possible that the latter portion of 2016, having put a real damper on the hot results from earlier in the year, do not accurately portray what’s to come in 2017. There’s an all-new Odyssey approaching, an updated Sienna fully on stream, a Kia Sedona that continues to build momentum, and a Chrysler transition period that’s been put to bed. The Town & Country is out. The Pacifica, including the Pacifica Plug-In Hybrid, is in.

True, FCA still has no idea what to do with the Dodge Grand Caravan. The Nissan Quest still won’t be a major draw. And the Mazda 5 has ended the chances of North American mini-MPV success.

But the minivan isn’t dead, even if 2016 wasn’t nearly as good to the people carrier category as we thought it’d be.

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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41 Comments on “After a Hot Start, Minivans Tanked in 2016...”


  • avatar
    Almost Jake

    With new models coming out from Honda and Toyota, I imagine people are waiting to see the new offerings…like I am.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Maybe minivan sales are like spawning, one yearly peak and then taper-off.

    Doesn’t mean there won’t be a peak the next year.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Disappointing to see 3-row crossovers continue to take share from minivans, which are far superior in my experience. Hopefully the improvements in style from the big 3 (a matter of personal choice) will lead to higher sales in 2017.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Sadly, most if not all young moms that I know would rather get a bad case of chlamydia than a minivan. And I say sadly, because we owned one during our daughter’s first five years of life, and it was a godsend. It was replaced by an SUV, and we greatly regretted doing so.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      This. My best friend has two kids and he’d love a minivan to haul them (and his guitars) around, but wife steadfastly refuses to be seen in one, despite the practicality of owning such a vehicle. She’d much rather look at an SUV, because…well, because “SUV!”

      Meanwhile, I thought my wife and I were empty-nesters until we adopted our 10-year old niece last year. Thoughts of a nice, used BMW Z parked in the garage, we’re seriously contemplating buying a used minivan, as our new daughter is very involved in dog shows. While I borrow my sister’s 2011 Explorer now for each show we attend, continuing to pile on miles on somebody else’s car is getting old, and just about every vehicle we see at shows we attend are…minivans! The thought of all that space that minivans provide is an overwhelming factor in our decision (especially on those last days of the show, when all you want to do is load your crap anyway you can and just. get. home.). Sexy? Not even remotely close. More useful than most SUVs? I think probably so.
      As for tanking sales…perception is what it is, and most family folks see the van as dowdy, frumpy and decidedly “uncool.” Better to be seen in a SUV or lifted hatchback, er, CUV than a box on wheels. I guess I need to get over the “frump” factor and embrace the possibility of soon owning a minivan myself.

      • 0 avatar
        jthorner

        Don’t bother with a used minivan when you can get a brand new one for around $20k at your nearest FCA dealership.

        And guess what, the Dodge Grand Caravan Consumer Reports reliability rating is the same as for a Honda Odyssey.

        One of the good things about being in my 50s is that I could care less what others think is cool or not.

        • 0 avatar
          Sloomis

          “the Dodge Grand Caravan Consumer Reports reliability rating is the same as for a Honda Odyssey”

          Maybe initially, but long term I highly doubt it. Speaking as a middle-aged minivan owner who knows a lot of other minivan owners, the horror stories I’ve heard about T&Cs/Caravans would keep me far away. The worst story I’ve heard about a Honda was one losing its transmission at 140k. And that was one of the “bad” second generation ones. The T&C/Caravan owners I know report they lose their transmissions every 30-50k like clockwork. What I don’t get is that these people continue to buy them for the alleged “value proposition”. Of course, the one guy explained his philosophy to me. You buy ’em cheap and new, get an extended warranty so the first transmission is covered, then trade it in at 90k or so when the second transmission is due to blow, and repeat the process

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’m already seeing dealers advertising a few grand off of the Pacifica.

    Does Toyota have a new minivan in the works?

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    We had an Odyssey, we now have an Explorer. The Ody has considerably more room than does the Explorer, or any other similarly sized CUV.

    The bsse Ody is $750 less than the base Pilot. No, you can’t get AWD on the Odyssey, but what percent of the fleet is AWD? You can’t get an AWD Accord or Camry, but that doesn’t stop them from selling.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I wonder how many people used to buy minivans because they wanted occasional rear seats, not because they wanted to haul 5 people regularly (i.e., they had 3 kids)? To me, a minivan makes perfect sense if you have 3+ kids and need to constantly haul 5 people, but I think a lot of people want three rows of seats because they want to be able to occasionally haul Timmy next door home from soccer practice along with their own 2 kids. And frankly, who cares if Timmy is less comfortable in the back of a Pilot or Highlander or Traverse for that 5 minute ride? A minivan used to be the only way (aside from Suburbans, and fullsize 15pax vans) to get a third row of seats, but now that there are other alternatives if people don’t want a minivan for those 5 minute drives 2x a week, they don’t have to get one.

    • 0 avatar
      Stevo

      If you have three kids you will no doubt be schlepping more than that number all over the place frequently, not occasionally. For drop offs the key benefit of a minivan is the power sliding doors. Also, children grow larger. Little Timmy becomes teenage Tim and cramming adult sized people into the third row of a crossover, climbing past other occupants to get to the doors, is dumb. Minivans do people better. I people are insecure in what they drive then they get the consequences of an inferior vehicle for the people mover task.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Uh, yeah, we agree if you have 3+ kids a minivan is better. But I don’t, nor will I ever, have 3+ kids. So for 2 kids, I anticipate I will occasionally need to haul more than 4 people, so a temporary rear seat like a 3-row CUV offers is perfectly adequate, but I’m not going to be doing it so often that I care about the absolute optimal vehicle for doing it.

        I really hate when people ascribe not wanting to drive a minivan to “insecurity.” There are plenty of valid reasons for not wanting one, such as:

        -don’t like the looks
        -can’t get a luxury branded one and associated perks (dealer experience, loaners, etc)
        -generally lower power/FWD only
        -relatively poor driving dynamics
        -feeling of driving a blimp hanger around
        -limited choices in market
        -Don’t need all that space all the time

        For instance, there are plenty of reasons why I might prefer, say, an MDX Advance over an Odyssey Touring Elite, like more power, SH-AWD, and a better appointed interior, and I’d be willing to accept that the very occasional third row isn’t as good because I don’t care that Jimmy across the street is less comfortable back there when I graciously drive him home. Nor do I care that my 4×8 sheets of plywood (I’ve bought 4 in my 35 years of life, all on one day, all carried on a roof rack) can’t fit in the back.

        • 0 avatar
          Wodehouse

          Yes! Modern crossovers have become so good at doing the family thing without looking or driving like an ugly box on wheels. (Actually, they look and drive like big puff-balls on wheels.) Sure, maximum interior volume isn’t quite the same, but, I wouldn’t call the current crop of midsize crossovers cramped. If little Brexton and Kayla aren’t limber enough to comfortably make it to the back row, Sorry! If I can only load 1 gross of Costco toilet rolls, then, I suppose I must suffer.

  • avatar
    zip94513

    Except for the Grand Caravan they’re too expensive. I’m surprised sales rose 6%.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    A. Yes, you can get a Pilot for a fraction of the price of an Odyssey, but the value of that fraction is greater than one. The two cost essentially the same, but if you want AWD in the Pilot (that was your rationale after all), then you’ll pay an extra $1,800. Plus more for gas money and maintenance over time.

    B. The Odyssey is way more useful than the Pilot in most circumstances. You can haul 4X8 sheets. You can easily seat 7, and the back row is very accessible when you remove the extra seat in the middle of the second row. The seats are bigger and more comfortable, it’s just a better solution for large families.

    C. winter tires.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “B. The Odyssey is way more useful than the Pilot in most circumstances. You can haul 4X8 sheets. You can easily seat 7, and the back row is very accessible when you remove the extra seat in the middle of the second row. The seats are bigger and more comfortable, it’s just a better solution for large families.”

      This is what I’m talking about below. Those are all advantages if you do that stuff regularly. Most people don’t need or want to do that stuff regularly, they want to do it a couple times a year or haul 7 people a few times a month for short distances. And driving a minivan isn’t worth the added capability that they’ll use only very rarely.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        I wouldn’t say a minivan drives any less well than does a CUV. In many ways, the van is more carlike.

        I drove an Aerostar for 10 years and have had plenty of seat time in both my wife’s Ody and her Explorer. They drive somewhat differently, but I wouldn’t say one was better that the other.

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          Depends on the CUV. There are plenty of CUVs that drive WELL. My wife’s RDX is FAST, can’t really get that in a van. Where’s the van version of an X5 or MDX SH-AWD or Macan or Cayenne? Heck, even some of the Mazda CUVs have a pretty sporty drive.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      10/9 is a fraction.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “You can haul 4X8 sheets.”

      Why, oh why is that such a talking point? I see this on here all the time. If one needs to haul 4×8 anything consistently, you need a pickup.

      If not, and if you have a home project, for goodness sake, buy all the 4×8 sheets of everything you need and just rent the truck from Home Depot to haul it all home for $20 bucks.

      The 4×8 caveat is not a reason to buy a vehicle with that specific capability.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Primary reason to buy a minivan? No. But a nice feature nonetheless. I don’t see too many pickup trucks I’d want to transport drywall with in the rain.

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          Unless you are doing this kind of work all the time, in which case you probably have a dedicated truck or fullsize van, why on earth would that be a dedicated buying criteria? It seems like that would be a “wow that was convenient” moment maybe ONCE in the 10 years one might own a minivan, which hardly seems like a good reason to buy one. Aren’t you the kind of guy who ridicules pickup drivers for hauling a load once a year? How is this different?

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Chris,
          I have 3 kids. That’s why we bought a minivan. And yes, we often pick up a few more from karate, LAX, etc.

          I also transport 4X8 sheets maybe once a year for various home repairs. That wasn’t why we bought the Ody, just a nice bonus.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Minivan sales are down for the same reason sedan sales are down: The current SUV/CUV/Crossover fad. Consumer markets move in waves, and right now the wave is towards crossovers.

    It really is that simple.

    FYI, heavy incentives are already in place for the new Pacifica. $8,500 off MSRP is available without even asking. Proof: http://www.southcountychryslerjeepdodge.net/new/Chrysler/2017-Chrysler-Pacifica-for-sale-in-Gilroy-CA-1f060cf80a0e0a171807badc0142a426.htm

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    The only CUVs that can match (or at least compete with) a minivan for interior space are not the three-row midsizers like the Pilot, Highlander, Explorer, Sorento, or new Acadia, but the truly full-sized CUVs, the Traverse/Enclave/old Acadia and the Flex/MKT, all of which are made by companies that don’t offer a minivan.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Zip is correct in that with high pricing, many will look to an SUV instead.

    I gave up my last mini-van a few years ago and long to get another one.

    3 rows of seats and the ability to carry sheets of plywood or drywall make it the most functionally efficient of all vehicles.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    Where are the new Pacifica minivans on the road? I’ve seen those Jim Gaffigan ads dozens of times since last summer on US channels in Canada, but they’re just not around the GTA despite being built here in Ontario. I’ve seen a grand total of just two so far…maybe we don’t want the frills?

  • avatar
    Syke

    As someone who went from two Dakotas (one 4×4), one S-10 and a Ranger, to a Kia Sedona; minivans serve a better purposed for me than the pickups did. The only weaknesses I’ve found with a minivan is the inability to haul dirty loads, or hauling a large motorcycle.

    Conversely, a pickup truck stinks for reenactment weekend hauling or race track camping.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    It has to do with summer travel for families, not many people plan to travel in the Fall and Winter, so sales naturally drop.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Good catch. Plus the target market for minivans are families and they are generally loading up with debt for Christmas and taking family holidays. Not much time or money for a new vehicle purchase.

  • avatar

    As a minivan enthusiast (vanthusiast?), I’m looking forward to the day where we get another minivan in our fleet. I still long for my dearly departed 1996 Ford Aerostar XLT that I had for all of May, and the first part of June last year.

    As mentioned before, my wife is one of those that can’t possibly be seen in a minivan, as she would rather have a SUV/CUV. Fortunately, she’s not wanting a motorhome-sized SUV like a Suburban LOL

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    … The Town & Country is out. The Pacifica, including the Pacifica Plug-In Hybrid, is in…

    I think it is worth noting that at the dying days of Bertel as EIC, the prediction of utter failure of the updated GM truck architecture was made because of a flooding of the market of GMT900 vehicles at the end, and low initial uptake of the 9XX architecture.

    About 12 or 18 months later the “plan” revealed that it worked.

    There might be a lesson learned here for FCA as the T&C becomes the Pacifica. GMT900 had much lower prices compared to 9XX, one of the big things that was questioned. Yes, I get it, big money on the hood of the 9XX vehicles, all fullsize trucks play the big money on the hood game (and package deals, and owner loyalty programs, and regional discounts, and…) so MSRP on fullsizers is kind of BS anyway. It isn’t a 1:1 to comparison exactly.

    One other point to make, it is damn hard to get people into a showroom in the first place when all you have to offer is left over failed midsizers, a very nice but outdated RWD near luxury (yes optional AWD) fullsizer, which people really aren’t interested in buying in the first place, and a new minivan.

    Chrysler has bigger institutional and product mix issues that is probably hurting interest and floor traffic.

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