The Best of the Best: Minivans Dominating the US Roads from 2008 to Today

Minivans have occupied a tiny and peculiar segment of the automotive landscape over the last several decades, often being the only vehicle type that reflects the particular desires of a family seeking comfort, space and utility from their automobile. While the rise of ever-expanding utility vehicles in the form of SUVs and crossovers could spell doom for traditional minivans, a small subset of the dwindling minivan population has adapted and evolved to maintain their foothold on the wallets of the American consumer over the last ten years. This discussion examines the evolution, diminution and triumph of the last eight minivans in the United States over the past decade to see what it signifies about an ever-shifting segment of the automotive market.

The Start of an Era: Volkswagen Routan's Quiet Exit

The Routan was Volkswagen’s attempt to make its mark in the minivan market – a half-hearted one that was never able to get off the ground. Sales were a modest bust. Between 2008 and 2013, a total of 3,212 went out the door – a grand finale of Volkswagen’s brief foray into the minivan arms race.

Kia's Name Game: Carnival and Sedona

Kia Carnival: A New Contender Emerges (2021-Present)

Label a vehicle with a new name and infuse it with a pep and you’re creating a Kia Carnival; in 2021, the vehicle took Korea by storm, selling 85,643 units just in that year, on the heels of the Kia Sedona. If we believed the company’s claims of a promising future for the Carnival, wouldn’t the Carnival’s hybrid car status offer an attractive and modern look at what modern minivans could be going forward?

Kia Sedona: Building Reliability (1998-2020)

The Sedona was the minivan that Kia’s customers could depend on, and it constituted a permanent part of the brand’s line-up until it was replaced by its remodelled sibling, the Carnival, in 2020. In its final decade, it sold 176,434 units. The family-oriented minivan market that gave life to the Sedona’s ancestors and ushered in their successors has steadily shrunk since its peak in the mid-1990s.

Chrysler's Legacy: From Town & Country to Pacifica

Chrysler Town & Country: A Lasting Legacy (1989-2016)

After spending a decade as the world’s top-selling minivan (417,488 sales were enough to see it off into the sunset in 2016) and earning its stripes as an important technology proving ground, the Chrysler Town & Country lives on as a marker of many things – including just how far we’re them.

Chrysler Pacifica: Ushering in the Future (2016-Present)

The Pacifica, which featured a built-in vacuum and front- and rear-cabin CAMERAS that could be operated from the infotainment screen in the middle, sold 807,313. That vehicle, in particular, helped to re-establish this segment as a genuine family vehicular experience.

Dodge Grand Caravan: An End of an Era (1984-2020)

The Chrysler Corporation’s Dodge Grand Caravan, the minivan that sold 922,314 units becoming massively popular and incredibly long-lived – as of September 2016, a few years before the car was ended, it was still in its fourth generation – was a latecomer to the minivan market. But its departure put a spectacularly long and successful bookend on minivan history.

The Heavyweight Duel: Toyota Sienna vs. Honda Odyssey

Toyota Sienna: The Hybrid Pioneer (1997-Present)

Toyota’s Sienna minivan transformed itself into a hybrid supernova over the course of the decade, totaling 1,070,826 sales for the compact power-sipping shuttle. This green retooling also kept it in the running when it came to award competitions. Indeed, Toyota wasn’t just retrofitting past successes – it was fully invested in creating greener products that could continue to dominate market shares in the new millennium.

Honda Odyssey: The Reigning Champion (1994-Present)

Rule the world: At the top is the Honda Odyssey, high-tech plus luxury plus roomy-ness, wrapped in a bow and delivered to 1,084,714 happy owners, for which it’s the bestselling minivan in the world and king of the entertainment cars. It’s been jostling with Toyota’s Sienna for the minivan crown lately, and the Sienna outsold the Odyssey this last year, just beating it by 2,000 units, raising the possibility that it might usurp the throne.

The Evolution of Minivans: A Closer Look at CAMERAS

The goal of innovation in a minivan is not more space or better fuel efficiency – those are table stakes – it’s also making driving safer and better. The innovation exemplified by interior CAMERAS, like those in the Chrysler Pacifica, are institutionalising technology that represents a next step in the transformation that the minivan is long overdue. Those aren’t imported accessories, they are necessary to give the multitasking driver a panoramic view of the interior of the minivan that doesn’t force him to turn his head to observe the children in the rear window or middle console. Such a view allows that driver to safely monitor passengers without taking his eyes off the road. Notice that I did not say minivan driver – it just demonstrates, once again, how the minivan, even after decades of sneering, is now ­­– and has been for some time – well beyond its original role, poaching both technology and status symbols from luxury vehicles and setting new standards of transport for the family.

Family haulers have certainly been under the knife in the past decade, and hopefully, that includes the kind of surgery that prevents a motor vehicle from bleeding to death. Chrysler Pacifica. Photo courtesy FCA. Minivans will survive, thanks to their legacy, as well as a healthy dose of innovation—some of which we’ve already documented here. As for Herman Mueller, I’d like to believe that he’d still be proud of the family hauler. From the Volkswagen Routan to the Chrysler Pacifica to the Honda Odyssey, the minivan won’t die. It will adapt.

May 29, 2024
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