Hooniverse Parting Shot: The Decline of the Domestic Minivan…….

With crossovers dominating the market, are the minivan’s days numbered on the eve of its 30th anniversary? The annual auto edition of Consumer Reports magazine is now on newsstands. Curious, I decided to thumb through the pages to see how this publication rated some of the domestic models. I was not at all surprised that very few of the domestic nameplates were recommended, with most of the top picks going to the European and Asian brands. With the exception of the redesigned Ram pickups, the Chrysler brands (Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep) were the perpetual whipping boys. This bit of news is unfortunate, because the Chrysler brands used to offer some of the most innovative models on the market. The Jeep Cherokee, in four-door mode, actually created the mid-sized, sport-utility segment in 1984. The Dodge Club Cab pickup was the first truck to offer a cab and a half in 1972. And, of course, Chrysler is credited for creating the minivan segment with the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager in the Fall of 1983. Unfortunately for Chrysler, the history and innovation such vehicles represent counts for zero, as the Chrysler minivans rate at or near the bottom of their categories, while the imitators are embraced as the saviors to the family with their van, SUV, and crossover competitors. Let’s take a look at the decline of the once-popular domestic minivan and see what went wrong. The story of how Chrysler was saved with the introduction of the minivan has been told time and time again. Bottom line: The design was a game changer, a product at once different, distinctive, affordable, and useful. The only other game changer in the passenger-car market with a similar effect was the 1964½ Mustang. For all of its warts, the front-wheel-drive Chrysler minivan could carry seven passengers in relative comfort and get great fuel economy with the footprint of a small compact car. No other vehicle at the time could match those traits. Caught off guard, Ford and General Motors quickly cobbled together their answer to the new Chrysler using truck-based platforms. Toyota, Mitsubishi, and even Nissan hastily introduced their Japanese domestic forward-control vans in response to the new competition, with limited success. Chrysler had the market to itself for nearly a decade–and they improved the formula every few years. Read the rest of the story of how Chrysler dominated this class, and how Americans quickly replaced the Minivan with the SUV and Crossover, over at Automotive Traveler.

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