More Automakers Re-entering the Minivan Segment

Shedding the “soccer mom” stigma that has followed minivans, these roomy mom mobiles are once again emerging as the favored selection of young families for smart choice transportation needs. Minivans are also proving to be the smartest choice for budget-minded buyers. Minivans are among the lowest cost vehicles to insure.
Sales of minivans are not expected to come close to the 1.37 million units purchased in 2000, the all-time high point for minivan popularity. Yet industry insiders expect modest growth this year from the 488,000 minivans that motorists purchased in 2010.
One auto analyst expects annual minivan sales to climb to 600,000 units by the end of next year. A Honda spokesman forecasts over 110,000 sales of its all-new Odyssey minivan for 2011, expecting “modest and continued growth of minivan sales (in future years).”

There are relatively few minivans on sale today. By volume, the leading sellers from 2010 are: Chrysler Town & Country (112,745 units); Dodge Caravan (103,323); Honda Odyssey (108,000 units); and the Toyota Sienna accounted for slightly below 100,000 sales in 2010.
The only other minivans on the market are the Kia Sedona and the Volkswagen Routan. The latter is made by Chrysler for VW and is a reworked version of the Town & Country. Both the Sedona and Routan account for a tiny fraction of overall minivan sales.
But big things are in the works for the minivan segment in the next couple of years. Nissan is introducing its fourth-generation 2011 Quest minivan. The Quest, which is based on the same platform as the Maxima and Altima sedans and the Murano crossover utility vehicle, is offered in four models: S, SV, SL and LE.

Ford is preparing to introduce a really small minivan, called C-Max next year. It’s based on the Ford Focus platform. The European-developed vehicle is about 2 feet shorter than conventional minivans on sale today.
General Motors currently doesn’t offer a minivan in the U.S., although it sells small minivans in Europe and in China. The Sunshine is GM’s Chinese minivan. It’s a stripped-down vehicle with a top speed of 80 mph. It doesn’t even have lap belts for the rear seats. But it costs a mere $5,000 and GM sold 560,000 Sunshines in China last year.

Recently, GM announced that it is preparing to debut in the next couple of years a plug-in hybrid minivan using the Chevrolet Volt powertrain.
Chrysler is working on a non-electric hybrid minivan for introduction in a few years, too. The Chrysler hybrid would use a hydraulic hybrid powertrain. Chrysler and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a partnership to determine the possibility of adapting a hydraulic hybrid system for large passenger cars and light-duty vehicles.

“Hydraulic hybrid vehicle technology is one more promising path worth pursuing in the effort to reduce our carbon footprint, and we are excited to partner with the EPA to push forward on this track,” said Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler Group, CEO.
The Chrysler Group minivans, Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey are among the least expensive vehicles to insure today. For utility and cost, minivans are once again proving themselves a smart and thrifty buy. — Herb Shuldiner, Motor Matters

Manufacturer photo: The Ford C-MAX is an all-new, affordable compact family vehicle. It introduces a host of unique features, including an industry-exclusive hands-free rear liftgate, a versatile seating configuration with five seats in the main cabin and two smaller seats in the third row, twin sliding doors and active park assist. The new C-MAX is part of Ford’s global small vehicle strategy that will deliver 2 million vehicles annually from a single C-vehicle platform by 2012.

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