2017 Is Set to Be The Worst Year For Minivans Since The Depths Of Recession, Unless The New Honda Odyssey Makes Hay

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
2017 is set to be the worst year for minivans since the depths of recession unless

U.S. minivan volume has decreased in nine consecutive months as the American minivan category lost 70,000 sales since August 2016, year-over-year.

As a result of the steady decline in a minivan segment that essentially features only five vans, 2017 is set to be the lowest-volume year for the category since 2009. At the rate achieved through the first one-third of 2017, Americans will purchase and lease only 452,000 minivans in 2017, just 2.6 percent of the overall market and only slightly more minivans than Americans purchased and leased when the overall industry collapsed to the lowest level in 27 years.

Or perhaps not. Fresh product is the carnauba wax bath balm for the soccer mom segment’s tired flesh. And a new 2018 Honda Odyssey is due at dealers in the coming weeks. (We’ll have a review of it next week.)

Is a new Odyssey the answer for America’s minivan woes?

Honda believes so.

“We think the market is fairly stable at around half a million and our share of that, at around 125,000, is pretty well spoken for,” American Honda product planner Jay Joseph told Wards Auto.

America’s minivan category has averaged slightly more than 540,000 annual sales over the last half-decade.

But Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ transition away from the Chrysler Town & Country into the Chrysler Pacifica has resulted in a serious degradation in volume, albeit not an unanticipated one given the Pacifica’s somewhat premium positioning in the market. Chrysler brand minivan sales are down 18 percent so far this year. The Pacifica was America’s leading minivan in April, however, a month in which Chrysler brand minivan sales rose 65 percent.

Meanwhile at Chrysler’s Dodge partner, Grand Caravan sales have decreased by a modest 1 percent after rebounding from a dreadful 2015 (caused by a plant shutdown to retool for the Pacifica) last year. Year-to-date, the futureless Grand Caravan is the leading minivan nameplate. Combined, FCA owns 52 percent of America’s shrinking minivan segment, up from 47 percent of a bigger pie last year.

Refreshed inside for 2015, underhood for 2017, and again updated for the forthcoming 2018 model year, the Toyota Sienna was America’s best-selling individual minivan nameplate in each of the last two years. But the third-generation Sienna, originally launched in 2010, is no spring chicken. Sienna sales are down by a fifth so far this year.

The third-generation Kia Sedona has lost some of its fresh-faced appearance now, having been on the market for nearly three years. Sedona volume is down 28 percent in early 2017, placing the fifth-ranked minivan on track for a three-year low of barely more than 30,000 sales.

With the Mazda 5 dead and the Nissan Quest extinguished from retail duty, this leaves the Honda Odyssey to pick up the slack. But suffering from old age, with the Pilot and Ridgeline and Acura MDX stealing capacity, Odyssey sales are down 31 percent compared with 2016. Odyssey sales last year fell to a five-year low.

Undeniably more talented than the outgoing model, the 2018 Honda Odyssey will still face decreased demand for minivans on the whole in the latter half of this year. The minivan segment contracted over the last decade — gone are mainstream competitors from General Motors and Ford, among others — and the more recent decline in demand occurs as Americans move in ever greater numbers to SUVs and crossovers. While the industry has slowed down in early 2017, losing sales in each of the last four months, SUV/crossover volume is up 8 percent.

It may not matter how good the new Odyssey is — 2017 will not likely be a good year for the minivan segment. But will 2017 be the end of the category’s downfall?

The minivan category’s share of the U.S. auto industry is now below 3 percent, falling by more than half since 2006.

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 @timcaincars.

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3 of 37 comments
  • Akatsuki Akatsuki on May 12, 2017

    Have a Sienna. There just isn't a choice for families with three young kids. Once you put in car seats, you can't easily flip down seats.

    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on May 12, 2017

      And once the kids grow up, minivans are often replaced with an SUV or CUV. I expect both my daughter and daughter-in-law to trade their minivans for an SUV or CUV, probably by next year, as their kids will get their own drivers licenses and need wheels of their own, living where they do.

  • Frank Williams Frank Williams on May 14, 2017

    There's no way I'd buy this - or any other Honda - until they get rid of the gawd-awful, slow-booting, Garmin-based, lawyer-screened, nanny-mindset infotainment system, and put the replacement system on retained accessory power. Owning one is enough to make me swear off Honda products until they do something about that abysmal design.

  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
  • Donald More stuff to break god I love having a nanny in my truck... find a good tuner and you can remove most of the stupid stuff they add like this and auto park when the doors open stupid stuff like that
  • John Williams Sounds like a Burnout Special you can put together on any 5.0 F150. Whoever said this was Cars and Coffee bait is right on the money.
  • ToolGuy Question: F-150 FP700 (  Bronze or  Black) supercharger kit is legal in 50 states, while the  Mustang supercharger kit is banned in California -- why??