By on June 14, 2017

2018 Honda Odyssey - Image: HondaThe 2018 Honda Odyssey went on sale three weeks ago. The Chrysler Pacifica has only been on the market for a year. The Toyota Sienna will enjoy another refresh for the 2018 model year.

If ever there was a time in which America’s minivan segment needs to shine, the second-half of 2017 is it.

Minivan sales tumbled 14 percent, year-over-year, through the first five months of 2017. Only 3 percent of the auto industry’s volume is now minivan-derived. Year-over-year volume decreased in nine consecutive months between August 2016 and April 2017.

There are far fewer competitors now than there were a decade ago. Therefore, the minivan market doesn’t need to produce the sort of volume it did a decade ago. However, minivan sales can’t continue to plummet, month after month after month.

Minivan sales need to rise. If they can’t do so now, then when? And if the segment can’t do it with fresh product from Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota, then who can supply the growth?

We know it’s not going to be Mazda. The mini-minivan movement is dead in America. Mazda sold 160,061 Mazda 5s in America, but that methodology is toast.

We know it’s not going to be the Nissan Quest. Nearly 80,000 fourth-generation Nissan Quests have been sold in America since 2011. But after confirming the existence of a 2017 model and then releasing that model to fleets, we now know that Nissan has killed off the Quest.

We don’t know whether the Dodge Grand Caravan can play a role in any American minivan resurgence. Through the first five months of 2017, the Grand Caravan is America’s overall minivan sales leader, claiming 30 percent of the overall market thanks to an 8-percent year-over-year sales uptick to 63,657 units. Time and time again, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has confirmed the eventual discontinuation of the Grand Caravan. But it’s clear FCA, which never shies away from killing off models, is not at all clear on its plans for the most popular minivan in America.

Already gone are vans from Buick, Chevrolet, Ford, Mazda, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, and Volkswagen.

This will leave a quartet of automakers to fight over a shrinking segment; a quintet of vans (Grand Caravan still included) that will attempt to collectively make up for the lost sales from rival automakers in addition to finding new minivan owners: Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Toyota Sienna, and the futureless Dodge Grand Caravan.

A handful of remaining contenders are certainly primed to take advantage of the disappearance of many rivals.

Bolstered by new seating plans, improved power and efficiency, updated infotainment, and new tech features, the 2018 Honda Odyssey is also going to benefit from improved production capacity. The Odyssey’s Lincoln, Alabama, assembly plant is home to four vehicles: Odyssey, Pilot, Ridgeline, and Acura MDX. But some MDX production has moved to Ohio to free up space.USA minivan sales chart 2017 - Image: © The Truth About CarsThe Chrysler Pacifica, launched in the spring of 2016, is an impressive device that reached its highest sales total yet in April and then broke that record with 11,720 sales in May. The arrival of the plug-in hybrid Pacifica in early 2017 won’t soon have a significant impact on total volume, but positive press for the PHEV casts a nice glow on the Pacifica nameplate overall.

After revamping the interior for 2015 and making the Sienna America’s most powerful minivan for 2017, the 2018 Toyota Sienna is modestly facelifted and updated with more safety tech. The Sienna remains the only minivan with all-wheel-drive availability, and it’s led the segment in sales in each of the last two years.

But the weight of minivan expectations that fall on these vans is certainly hefty. Twelve years ago, Americans registered more than 1.1 million new minivans. In 2017, sales are currently on pace to fall below 480,000 units.

That pace could suddenly change. As Honda prepared the 2018 Odyssey for a May 25, 2017, dealer launch, the outgoing Odyssey reported a 30-percent decline to only 37,010 sales in the first five months of 2017. Quite a recovery is needed: Odyssey sales were stronger than that when the prior generation was finishing its run, and that was at the end of a recession.2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (left) and Chrysler Pacifica (right) - Image: FCAChrysler could witness stronger-than-expected demand for the Pacifica Hybrid. But will Pacifica Hybrid buyers come from outside the minivan category?

Toyota, which suffered an 18-percent drop in Sienna sales in the first five months of 2017, could enjoy a Sienna resurgence if some reliability-focused consumers veer away from Chrysler and a Honda in its first model year. But the third-generation Sienna is about to enter its eighth generation — it’s no fresh face.

Even Kia could benefit from a Sedona improvement if other vans shine a positive light on the market, though the Sedona has had an opportunity to grab the advantage in early 2017 and sales instead fell 29 percent.

Presumably, given its status as The Establishment and its value-oriented price point, the Dodge Grand Caravan could continue to grow its sales throughout 2017. Whether that growth represents any long-lasting interest in the minivan sector as a whole, however, is another matter.

More likely than not, some of the positive possibilities — though not all — will come to fruition. Likewise, some, though not all, of the negative possibilities will come to pass, as well.

Ideally, America’s minivan segment will show healthy signs of improvement, built up by new product. If not, expect to see minivan choice continue to be cut back. You may be a minivan lover, you may be a minivan hater. But we should all be fans of automotive choice.

[Images: Honda; Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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45 Comments on “After a Dreadful Start, 2017’s Second Half Is the Minivan’s Time To Shine – but Can the Segment Recover?...”


  • avatar
    Cactuar

    An AWD Subaru minivan at an affordable price could bring a fresh perspective on the minivan, by adding even more utility. Other than the Sienna there hasn’t been another AWD offering. If Subaru can re-use the Ascent platform like they did with the Exiga in Japan (legacy platform) maybe they could make it viable…

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      You’d have to think a Subaru minivan would be a natural fit given its’ family demographic, but I wonder if they’d sell enough of them to have the model pay off.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Yep, I’ve been saying this for a while now. Utilitarian+safe+family friendly, seems like a shoe-in for Subaru.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Subaru is still a niche brand, and minivans are a niche (and shrinking) market. Too much niche, probably.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            I think there a lot of Subaru people that currently leave the fold once they outgrow the Outback. Hence the upcoming Ascend I suppose, but Subie people have that pragmatist bone in them that prioritizes utility over vanity (or at least the LOOKS of an owner being a pragmatist). I would totally buy a Subaru van with a slight suspension lift and AWD, having grow up riding in and driving a lower-body-clad Mazda MPV Allsport. The previous gen Sienna AWD had a useful 1 inch lift over the FWD variant, I think that was done away with for the current gen (that and a wimpier reactive AWD system).

    • 0 avatar
      newenthusiast

      I think that’s a great idea. But I think it would have more up sales from their existing base (cannibalizing the Forester and Outback to some degree) before being able to get conquest from Kia and Honda, etc.

      With the upcoming Ascent, they do have platform that is the right size for a van now, though. And their AWD would (hopefully) be different/better than the Sienna.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    I still question why Toyota has not implemented a hybrid Sienna. They have a robust hybrid drive train and already have AWD capability. I’m guessing because of the loss of storage area?

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Good point. The initial acceleration of a heavy vehicle from a stop with an electric motor could really pay MPG benefits. The tech is there, so why not?

    • 0 avatar
      SpinnyD

      I have never understood that one myself. In Japan they have several Hybrid minivans for sale, and have for years. I saw an Estima Hybrid minivan in Japan back in 2003. The Estima is about the same size as the Seinna here.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      That’s what I was told when I inquired: The people who pick a minivan over a CUV (Highlander), are exactly those that are least willing to give up any interior space, to batteries and the rest of the hybrid drive train. While those who aren’t quite so Nazi about every last cubbyhole of interior volume and configurability, have already abandoned Minivans for 7 seat crossovers.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    I kinda wish Nissan would just give us a totally new Quest instead of killing it off. The last time was a half hearted attempt despite the fact that the interior quality was very good. The rest of the van was not.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    Both the Odyssey and Sedona are family vehicles I would very much like to own, but they’re not offered here in Europe. Another thing that makes this article a bit odd is the wording: There’s not much “mini” with the minivans mentioned here.

    • 0 avatar
      cognoscenti

      You just have to remember that full size, body-on-frame vans used to be popular in the United States. The “minivan” was a revolution in its time, as a unibody construction vehicle with reasonable NVH and family creature comforts.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    When is a new Sienna coming? The 2017 is the seventh year for the current gen, which is how many the last gen went.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Back in March.

      “Toyota is very committed to Sienna as it continues to be one of our core products,” Toyota spokesperson Sam Butto told TTAC this afternoon. While declining to comment on future products, Butto says, “The current generation Sienna launched for the 2011 model year, so I would not say it is quite overdue for a next-generation launch.”

      We can read between the lines. “Mid-cycle enhancements, or minor changes, are very common before a next-generation launch,” Butto said, perhaps hinting at what’s to come in 2019 or 2020.”

  • avatar
    kobo1d

    I don’t think FCA will cede the bargain bin rental car special minivan market to Kia when the time comes to kill the GC. I’d expect them to offer a stripped down Pacifica value package at that point. Similarly, I also suspect they will eventually sell Pacifica hybrids in lower trims.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    The image problem with minivans is not going away. An Odyssey, Sienna or Pacifica would be much more suited to my family needs than my wife’s gargantuan three-row crossover with hinged doors – but there is no way in hell that she would agree to drive one. I did my part as the family vehicle driver for some time, so don’t ask me to drive one either!

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      ^^ This. The market (perception) has spoken, and folks just don’t want to be seen driving a minivan, even when they are clearly much better suited for a large percentage of usage most people get out of SUVs. Case in point. My best friend has two kids, he’d love a minivan. Sliding doors, room in the back (especially with the rear seats folded) for the family stuff. Tons of kit to keep kids occupied and comfy. But his wife steadfastly refuses to be seen in one. Period. End. It doesn’t matter how much he tries to convince her of the immense practicality of one, she just won’t budge. Heck, I’m considering one after I return from overseas as my daughter is heavily involved in showing our dog (and we’re soon to get another dog) and I’m tired of always borrowing my sister’s Explorer!

      • 0 avatar
        bhtooefr

        One way to save the minivan might be to harness the phenomenon that created the minivan in the first place.

        The 1980s minivan is to the 1970s full-size van, as the 2000s-2010s CUV is to the 1990s SUV – it’s taking something that’s perceived as cool, and then diluting it and making it mainstream.

        In the case of the full-size van, it was basically seen as a mobile sex/drug dungeon. Then, when everyone had the kids that were made in a full-size van, they downsized to a more respectable, but still having echoes of their past life, minivan so that they could fit it into a suburban garage.

        So, solution: buy minivans, get them a reputation for being used for sex and drugs, instead of transporting the results of sex.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          The problem with that is they’re too big for alleys where illicit sex and drgs are transacted. The original Chrysler minivan was 175 inches long – six inches shorter than a current Corolla.

          The Pacifica is almost 2-1/2 feet longer (the Durango is actually shorter than the Pacifica), and the competition is over 2 feet longer than that original “carlike” minivan.

          They’re all just too big and ungainly for the alley transaction biz, where smaller, nimbler, and plainer is more appropriate. Minivans must be made mini again! Just add AWD so people can make believe it’s a CUV.

          • 0 avatar
            bhtooefr

            No, you don’t use them for transactions (and it was *full size* vans that were used for that before, anyway), you use them for consumption.

            So, you use the “mini”van for consumption of licit sex and illicit (or in a few states, licit now, too) drugs, and then you put the resulting kids in a Mazda5/Transit Connect-sized vehicle after having to give up your “mini”van.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Recently had a Grand Caravan GT rental for work, and loved it. Pentastar is a highway monster, this thing was loaded to the gills (heated steering wheel, voice control for stuff like bluetooth, etc). I got about 24mpg in a mixed drive with the A/C cranked and some stop and go urban driving. For the size of the thing and the strong motor, not bad. I think an all-highway trip would have yielded 26-27mpg. Good looking two, nice cherry red paint, smoked headlight housings. Dark-finished alloys wheels (which I normally don’t care for) looked good and actually had rationally sized rubber mounted on them. Year old used ones go for low $20ks with 20k-ish miles. I know the reputation these Caravans have in regards to various issues, but that is a LOT of vehicle for the money. My default choice in the field would be a Sienna, but that Caravan was an eye opener.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      I agree, the Grand Caravan is a good value (at least if you buy it new with a warranty). The amount of people and cargo capacity for the money is hard to beat. The Pentastar engine is powerful enough for the vehicle, though it’s a bit out of character (the engine loves to rev, but the van isn’t nimble at all).

      The Pentastar engine would have made the Plymouth Prowler a lot more interesting, that’s for sure. Well, that and a stick shift. Haha.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I thought for a moment that perhaps some folks had switched to the passenger versions of the small commercial vans, the Transit Connect and ProMaster City. They’re smaller and cheaper, though much more spartan.

    According to Tim’s site, however, those are in the toilet as well.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I haven’t looked at the Transit Connect lately, but the ProMaster City as a passenger vehicle is more money than a Grand Caravan. I suspect the TC is also not inexpensive, but it’s the only choice Ford people have.

      Honestly, between the GC and the PMCity, I think I would pop for the GC. I can get an American Value Package version of the GC around here for sub $20K with incentives.

      I mean, it’s the lowest spec version you can buy, but still better equipped than a mid 1970’s Cadillac…

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        …And you have two rows of magic seats…. While FCA is no Toyota wrt expected reliability, the GC has been around long enough to be pretty darned well understood, both from a manufacturing and repair pov. At $20K, it’s got to be about the single greatest deal in all of automobiledom.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Empty boxes with tiny gutless engines will never sell.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Funny how entire classes of private cars come and go, yet despite hundreds of choices people have trouble finding EXACTLY what is best for them. How did our grandparents do without a pickup? Sad our children will be stuck with cuv’s. Etc.

    It points out how car preferences are just fashion, illustrates the conditioning power of marketing, and how basically shallow much of car websites and their discussions are.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      My mother’s baby brother built his house in the late 1940s using post and beam construction, and hauled the beams lashed to a makeshift roof rack on a 1938 Chevy sedan. Other materials were hauled on a single axle trailer towed by the sedan. You underestimate how resourceful earlier generations could be. They weren’t all Macgyvers, but they could come up with elegant solutions using the resources at hand.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        That’s what we do with our 1st gen CRV AWD 5MT. Roofrack and light trailer. We’ve done some big jobs with that combo. Yes, occasionally it takes two trips where a 3/4 ton p/u might do it in one. Has been one heck of a family car for nearly twenty years now.

  • avatar
    Dawnrazor

    My brother traded a ’14 Durango (5.7L) for a ’17 Pacifica a couple of months ago. He was able to get almost $10k off MSRP (roughly $48k), which probably contributes to the sales uptick in the article.

    He still feels strongly that he made the right decision (his wife loves it too), and states it was perfect for a recent 1200-mile road trip. It is much more comfortable and spacious, rides much better, and handles at least as well with no real-world acceleration penalty (despite V6/FWD vs. V8/RWD). The interior is quite attractive and premium-feeling, and might even be the nicest Chrysler has ever done; to me it is much more appealing than the interiors of either the Sienna or Odyssey (let’s just hope it wears well over time, but I am optimistic).

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Chrysler’s minivans are their best products IMHO. I’ve been in several examples with over 250K miles and still getting the job done. While I am an enthusiastic owner of several Honda products, I trust the Chrysler minivans to deliver as much good service as the Asian brands. We have one in the extended family and I have considered buying it after they are done with it. Its a T&C. I’ve rented those a couple of times and they have been nice and comfortable.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    Minivans are suffering for the same reason as wagons (here in the U.S.): kids who were schlepped around in them when they were young are refusing to buy them now that they’re adults. Minivans have the same stigma as wagons, but it depends on the generation.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I’m another one who can’t believe the stylistic stupidity of the automotive market. Smartest thing I ever did was to dump the pickup for a mini van. While the pickup was betting for hauling a motorcycle when necessary, the van had been better for everything else.

    Oh the first worlds problems of being stuck driving a mommyvan . . .

    • 0 avatar
      SpinnyD

      Stick a hitch on the minivan and a small trailer for dirty loads and the minivan is better than a truck. At least for the average person.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      My wife refused and still refuses to drive a minivan. When my kids were little, we would borrow my in-laws’ Caravan (that shows you how long ago that was) for family trips. It was great, but my wife didn’t see it.

      A couple of years ago, my beloved Aztek punted a deer down a Western Michigan rural freeway and lost it’s lease on life. I found a nice Oldsmobile minivan to replace it. It has become my favorite car (except for autocrossing, probably not a good idea in an extended wheelbase minivan) for almost all of our needs. It’s been the best pickup truck I’ve ever owned. Next up is a square receiver hitch to further enhance the utility of the van.

      She still refuses to drive the minivan…

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I had a cousin who I helped make a deal on a full size CUV, because she wouldn’t drive a minivan. I pointed out that she could get all the same features and more in a minivan for 10k less, but still went for the less practical CUV. I also pointed out that she would still be just as lame a person no matter which vehicle she was driving, but whatever, she’s happy.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Not sure why we have a midsize sedan deathwatch and a hopeful article on mini vans. Has the minivan market shrunk so much that a recovery is assumed?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You can always jack up a minivan and give it AWD, and call it a CUV/SUV. It has the same people and cargo capacity of a SUV, and the same overall utility. The problem with the minivan is only its reputation, not its utility. It actually IS an utility vehicle.

      Midsize sedans with coupe rooflines that kill back seat comfort for adults, and small rear overhangs that limit trunk space, with mailbox trunklids, don’t have the utility of traditional people/cargo sedans, and so are not sedans. They deserve to die.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        No, all you have to do is build the sedans as they do in Europe. Exchange the trunk lid for a hatchback and now you have a five door with the comfort of a sedan and the utility of a hatchback (folding rear seats, large rear door for loading). It has much of the same utility as a CUV with the fuel economy of a sedan. Add AWD but you’ll get a 1 mpg diminished MPG advantage. Still has most of the sedan roofline. Make it a wagon if more utility is needed.

        I can’t decide if we have cars that are strictly sedans b/c they are cheaper to build, to steer people to more profitable CUVs (sedans with reduced utility b/c of the trunk), or because the marketing department knows people aren’t flexible enough in their tastes to accept a hatchback sedan (see Honda Crosstour, but it doesn’t have to be so chunky, could be really sexy and sleek).

        Why does the automobile in the USA need to fit into such discrete categories, why not more overlap (five door hatch, wagons, CUVs, etc)?

        My family drives a three row crossover not because we reject the minivan but because I want the towing capacity (5K lbs) and the AWD for situations that we occasionally find ourselves in. Our CRV has served us well in the same capacity for 18 yrs now. We wanted the third row and a bit more refinement this time. We could be hauling grandkids at some point during our ownership cycle of this vehicle.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    “We know it’s not going to be Mazda. The mini-minivan movement is dead in America. Mazda sold 160,061 Mazda 5s in America, but that methodology is toast.”

    We shall overcome!!! There is a remnant who wanteth sliding doors and yet forsaketh not nimble-ity!

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    “And if the segment can’t do it with fresh product from Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota, then who can supply the growth?”

    I surprisingly liked the new Sedona. Its pretty price competitive at the lower trims. I think it mostly has a marketing problem.

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    The minivan is a practical car. It’s sold on its utilitarian value.

    The practical car buyer today has many choices, most of them lightly-used. The practical car buyer will try to avoid a hefty car note.

    Today’s buyers are IMpractical – they’re the ones buying image or fantasy. That’s why $80,000 diesel bro-dozers are screaming off the lots. That’s why four-wheel drive is so desired in areas that see little snow; to people who are more likely to die than to camp out.

    The chaotic, uncertain economy is a problem for those who would have families – and the products those families might want.

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