Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Tide is Turning

Car guys hate minivans, calling them minimans, mommyvans, etc., and it would appear not unlike Congress, that the approval rating of minivans is finally, thankfully, starting to erode.

American drivers are finally coming to their senses. American automakers, not so much.

Chrysler bets on new designs to restore minivan sales
Who's Killing the Minivan?
Minivan sales down

Of all the minivans on sale here, only the Honda Odyssey continues to gain in sales. Every other minivan is showing a decline in sales. So, have minvans peaked? Is their popularity indeed on the decline? Are they too smarting from the high gas prices, like SUVs and pickups? Are the 3-row seat crossovers starting to steal traditional minivan customers? Is the "soccer mom" stigma finally taking its toll?

The problem with minivans isn't just the stigma. No automaker has ever been able to design one that is "cool" looking, and Minnesota statutes don't allow you to tint the windows dark enough so that your friends can't see you. Minvans would be like mopeds (fun to ride until your friends see you) but they're no fun to drive either.

Automotive industry surveys have repeatedly shown that Americans care as much about style and fun as they do any other feature. Vans were once cool in the 70's, remember " my Chevy Van and that's alright with me..."? Minivans were never cool, and as far as I know have never appeared in any song about anything.

The Honda Odyssey, the only miniman that has not lost sales, comes the closest to achieving a level of groove but last I checked Daniel Craig (or Patricia Heaton for that matter) isn't going to be seen in one any time soon.

The problem is, if you have more than two kids, and abhor minimans like any red-blooded American man should, your choices are limited, especially if you put a lot of miles on and don't have a $500 monthly gasoline budget. A good ol' Buick Roadmaster Wagon would work, but they haven't made them since 1996. A Volvo Wagon would be great but they come equipped at the factory with a faded Kerry/Edwards sticker on the back.

As millions of minimans hit the street, the novelty wore off and increasingly, crossovers like the GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook, Ford Edge, Lexus RX , Chrysler Pacifica and Mercedes R-Class are displacing minivan sales.

Ironically, many crossovers have at their foundation minivan underpinnings, hiked up for effect (and coolness quotient), and with the dubious (even in Minnesota) addition of all-wheel drive for those two days per year that it is needed. I drive rear wheel drive cars and have never had to stay home more than a couple hours in any recent winter.

The problem with all of these new crossovers is with all three rows of seats up, there is very little storage area behind the last seat. They can't pull a (real) boat. But, they are still way cooler that your miniman, and isn't being cool what really matters any way?


Bike Bubba said...

Now the question with the crossovers is "will they come out with a wood panel design?"

I admit, I'm dreaming of Buick coming out with a new Roadmaster--put the Corvette powertrain in it, wood on the sides, portholes, and seating for nine. Advertise it with a drag race against the Magnum, and have the winner greeted at a drive-in by waitresses on roller skates with full platters of root beer floats.

The loser gets diet. :^)

Anonymous said... (picture)
Your article was posted in the related blogs section of the Wall Street Journal


jroosh said...

Yah, pretty cool.

Smithers wrote this...(and I logged a comment)

Then I wrote this...

Then the WSJ wrote this...(look at the Blog listings at the bottom)

Pierce said...

Wall Street Journal? Dude, you're famous! I have been known to make fun of mini-vans for being un-cool but they do have some very practical aspects to them. Given the choice I would prefer a VW Vanagon though. Underpowered, over-priced, prone to mechanical problems, drives like a bus, but still ultra-cool. Ask me again in five years when I have kid(s) and it may be a different story.