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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  1. Alff Avatar

    Save the minivans!

    1. jjd241 Avatar

      "A minivan is better than what you are driving!"

  2. RedBaron89 Avatar

    Chrysler needs to look back at the early mini's and take notes: Compact size (the caravans they make now could fit an '84 mini inside one of the many stow & goer compartments), 4cyl + 5spd. ( ill take a turbo van please!), And for all those who will no doubt cry for its return AWD- those late AWD caravans were a true arctic expedition machine… to sum it up for any Chry engineers who cruise the H 'verse (we know your watching) make a 2.4 turbo man. trans, AWD caravan That is compact (say between the size of caliber & caravan) and make it as stylish as you can!

    1. RetroRCR Avatar

      Rise of the mini van? http://www.insideline.com/ford/transit-connect/20

    2. Maymar Avatar

      You can buy that van already, at your local Mazda dealer. Not that anyone really does. And that's why Chrysler doesn't sell it.

  3. thibawho Avatar

    yeah…that would be totaly awsome…

  4. BrianTheHoon Avatar

    I love our '09 T&C and the lifetime bumper-to-bumper warranty we have means that our total cost of ownership in guaranteed to be less than anything in its class. We keep our cars for a long, long time and anything that breaks on the van will cost me exactly $0 to fix. Of course, as soon as Fiat started sniffing around Chrysler's not quite dead carcass, they screamed "Cazzo! Thisa warranty musta go!" Our timing was fortuitous because I think the lifetime warranty last only a few months during C4C last year.
    Oh yeah, I also came here to say, "Consumer Reports is teh SUCK!"

    1. Alff Avatar

      I don't give a rat's @ss what CR says about ChryCo minivans. Our extended family has had many of them. The only one that didn't make it to 200K without a major issue died in a collision with a deer. I recently spent some "quality time" with a Toyota's family truckster while on vacation and actually prefer my wife's Grand Caravan in almost every way.

  5. PFG Avatar

    Recently, Mrs. PFG and I decided that when the time comes to upsize the family car, we're going to trade our Golf on a Mazda 5, which we view as a "microminivan." This post made me wonder: given that cars have just gotten bigger and bigger over the last 25 years, how does the Mazda 5 compare with the first-generation Chrysler minivans? The answers aren't all that surprising:
    LENGTH: '84 Caravan 175.9", '09 Mazda 5 181.5"
    WHEELBASE: '84 Caravan 112", '09 Mazda 5 108.3"
    WIDTH: '84 Caravan 69.6", '09 Mazda 5 69.1"

    1. engineerd Avatar

      We had a Mazda5 over Christmas. Great car! My mom said the 3rd row was ok for short trips. The only real downside is there is virtually no storage space behind the 3rd row when it's up…a lot like the early minivans. Luckily, it folds flat and give you a crap load of storage.

  6. discontinuuity Avatar

    I'd much rather drive an old-school Chrysler minivan than most of the current crop of crossovers, which somehow manage to have less interior space, more weight, worse handling, and worse mileage than a minivan. So remind me, why are crossovers so cool?

  7. AlexG55 Avatar

    I wonder what links (if any) there are with the Renault Espace- it started out as a Chrysler Europe design before ending up with Matra, and Renault still call it the original minivan.

    1. Guillaume Avatar

      In my opinion no link. The Espace was inspired by Matra Rancho (a 3 door kind of SUV from the late 70's) and Matra used Simca/Chrysler components for its firsts prototype for the Espace.
      But this story about the minivan in the US market is interesting because the Espace and the Minivan market in Europe currenlty suffers quite much. Like in the US, the Espace grew quite much, and the difference is that in Europe smaller versions were launched, the compact Scenic and small Modus for Renault. They all exist in small and long wheelbases, that gives a total of 6 lenghts, covering the whole maket (smaller is Fiesta size, and the LWB Espace is similar to the Voyager), but only the Scenic has a true success now.
      The Espace has a very good image, and interestingly it is actually more an executive than an actual family car. Yet, its sales remain very low.

      1. junkman Avatar

        Chrysler definitely studied the Espace as there was at least one running around their Detroit headquarters. Of course, they were also exploring importing the Bagheera at one time. It sure was a different world…..

  8. dukeisduke Avatar

    What, a picture of the awful Windstar, but no picture of a Previa? The Previa is bulletproof, and many last over 300k with any any major work.

  9. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    "I was not at all surprised that very few of the domestic nameplates were recommended"
    They go by reliability over the past few years, although their used-car reliability breakdowns are often inexplicable – how does a below-average score for 'Drivetrain (excluding engine/transmission)' make one car a bad buy and another a fair one?
    Their reviews of initial quality and drivability tend to be fair, and they call out some poor designs for their visibility, floatiness at speed, or imprecise steering (looking at you, Toyota). It's their reliability predictions that tend to fall flat when it comes to automobiles.

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