Could Minivans Become Popular Again?

could minivans become popular again

While often derided as highly unfashionable, minivans really are the Swiss Army knife of vehicles. They’re people haulers, cargo carriers, mobile campsites, and can even improvise as work vehicles for when a utility van (the Leatherman of vehicles) is unavailable. Minivans also drive more like cars than the brutes occupying the SUV and pickup segment, making them easier for some drivers to live with.

With vans having enjoyed a cultural renaissance during the 1970s, minivans hit the ground running in the mid-1980s and continued to swell in popularity until the millennium. By then, North Americans were buying an estimated 1.5 million minivans a year. But that’s also where society decided to apply the brakes. Sport utility vehicles and crossovers have effectively supplanted the van as the default family conveyance — though recent sales figures have suggested those dying flames are now being rekindled.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, minivans are enjoying a comeback that may foreshadow something bigger. It even goes so far as to suggest that the body style is poised for a serious comeback. While that may be a little optimistic at this juncture, there is some supportive data that they’re making some headway.

Some of this was anecdotal. The outlet noted that Kim Kardashian purchased a custom $400,000 Maybach minivan for a television program and that there’s been an increase in pro-van groups on social media. We’ve also spent the last several years seeing van culture redefined online ( with young adults attempting to frame the body type as a way to escape the trappings of a mundane existence. They’re showcasing vans as adventure vehicles. However, the preferred options are often larger utility models that have been converted into a mobile living unit.

Harder evidence of the culture evolving was provided thanks to some numerical data. The Wall Street Journal suggested most of the online groups were growing their userbase despite Americans using social media less often. Sales data also seemed to support minivans’ return to grace.

The average price of minivans as a category was up 43 percent nationally in the first quarter of 2022 — though that was staged against the same period in 2017 because the last few years have been kind of insane. This represents the single largest percentage gain of any vehicle category during a period where just about everything has gotten substantially more expensive. Meanwhile, North America’s preferred minivan — the Toyota Sienna — saw its U.S. deliveries surge from a paltry 42,885 units in 2020 to a whopping 107,990 in 2021. Again, the last few years have been outliers due to the pandemic. But they’ve also helped to reshape the industry in strange and interesting ways.

From WSJ:

Toyota says sales of its Sienna — the nation’s bestselling minivan in 2021, according to Edmunds — more than doubled last year from 2020.

Doug Eroh, president of Longo Toyota in El Monte, Calif., says the dealership has stopped taking Sienna orders, with a wait list of 1,500 hopeful buyers he says will likely take more than a year to satisfy.

But not all minivans have seen similar bumps in volume. The Honda Odyssey saw sales decline by 9 percent in 2021, despite the model owning nearly a quarter of the entire segment. Still, minivan sales were up by 16 percent (year over year) as a whole. Meanwhile, commercial vans (e.g. Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Metris) saw an 8 percent drop against 2020, with Ram ProMaster (often viewed as the bargain option) variants being one of the only models to see a meaningful increase in sales volume.

My take? People simply cannot afford to be as choosy anymore. It’s the same reason you’re seeing fewer sporting vehicles targeting middle-class consumers. Baby boomers are aging out and the younger generations simply don’t have the same purchasing power, so they’re opting back into affordable alternatives (e.g. motorcycles) for recreation and viewing automobiles in terms of how many boxes they can check. Minivans are ideal here a jack of all trades, even if they don’t mark any singular category with the same gusto as a more-focused vehicle might.

But it’s honestly still difficult to see a future where they suddenly supplant crossovers as North America’s dominant form of transportation. As a former minivan owner and lifelong advocate, I’ll be the first one to blindly suggest it’s the superior platform in most instances. However, most families can make do without one, especially if they’re on the smaller side and do-it-yourself projects aren’t part of anybody’s weekly routine. Minivans have also had a few historic blind spots (e.g. NVH) that the industry has addressed without solving the problem for the entire segment due to the way the vehicles are designed.

Despite vans seemingly having gained some ground of late, these victories have still left them with an incredibly small share of the overall market. For 2021, they only managed to outsell large sedans — another wonderful segment that’s been almost completely abandoned by the industry — resulting in their holding just a total U.S. market share of just 4.5 percent. While that has come at the expense of utility vans, there’s some cautious optimism that minivans might be poised for a resurgence in popularity. Though manufacturers will ultimately need to start producing and marketing them in earnest and just hope it coincides with consumer tastes if we’re expecting to see them on the road in truly great numbers.

[Images: Toyota; Stellantis; Honda]

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  • Lostboy Lostboy on Jun 06, 2022

    wife *will NOT* buy a mini-van come hell or high water - i soooo want a sienna or an AWD chrysler but not happening even after my son potentially effed-up the transmission in her SUV (don't ask) but we've been talking about getting a hybrid for about a year now so maybe we can skip that and just get a BEV small car and i can keep my subaru and make do?? sadly it'd be get a new car, get rid of my subaru and i inherit her SUV... (yes i gave my mom hell in my youth) btw. 1 used kidney for sale!

  • Sigfried Sigfried on Jun 06, 2022

    As mentioned above, I'm surprised at the dearth of Kia comments. I love my 2016 Sedona. As a jumbo sized person (6'2"/320#) I find it quite spacious. The big thing for me is shoulder room. In most cars my shoulder is wrapped around the doorpost when I put the seat back all the way. Even wider cars like the Mazda Cx9 often have the seat located too close to the door. I also like that I can get in and out without hitting my head like I do in the Pacifica or Odyssey, though the Sedona is still short enough to knock my hat off if I'm wearing one. My Sedona is the 6th minivan I've had in the past 25 years. Even though I'm not hauling kids around anymore I still think of minivans as one of the world's greatest inventions.

  • Theflyersfan I was living in one part of the world when China and Russia were completing their 21st century scramble of Africa. They were pumping billions into the economies of these countries building new dams, bridges, skyscrapers, freeways/toll roads, utilities, power plants, you know - projects that would benefit the average resident of said location. All they wanted in exchange were the mineral, mining, fishing, timber, etc., rights of said location. And they got them. So during that era when they were looking at global expansion, we were fighting unwinnable wars and our "leaders" on the left were yelling at the "leaders" on the right and vice versa, and what happens when all you do is stare and focus on one thing like DC is known to do? The world moves on around you. And that's what happened here.We had the same opportunity to build Africa up and to make the same deals as other countries, but our "nation building" tends to take place via the conversion from something solid and standing to something in pieces and in rubble. So it looks like we'll continue to have to deal with hostile nations holding our feet into the fire and working through their many geopolitical issues just so we can continue to get cheap electronics and necessary materials in our manufacturing just because we decided around 40+ years ago to ship it all overseas because we wanted to save 50 cents on a pack of socks and the CEOs needed their next quarterly statement to look even better to the shareholders so they could increase their pay and bonuses, consequences be damned.
  • DweezilSFV I didn't think GM could make a worse looking truck than their full-sizers.Success.
  • DweezilSFV GM. Still trying to make OnStar happen.And still the answer to a question no one ever asked.
  • Corey Lewis Look, here's the voice warning record player!
  • Buickman as Donnie Brosco said... Forget about it.