Minivan is an American car classification for vehicles which are designed to transport passengers in the rear seating row(s), have reconfigurable seats in two or three rows. The equivalent terms in British English are Multi-purpose Vehicle (MPV), people carrier and people mover. Minivans often have a 'one-box' or 'two-box' body configuration, a high roof, a flat floor, a sliding door for rear passengers and high H-point seating.
Compared with a full-size van, a minivan is based on a passenger car platform and has a less tall body (in order to fit inside a typical garage door opening).
The largest size of minivans is also referred to as 'Large MPV' and became popular following the introduction of the 1984 Renault Espace and Dodge Caravan. Typically, these have platforms derived from D-segment passenger cars or compact pickups. Since the 1990s, the smaller Compact MPV and Mini MPV sizes of minivans have also become popular. If the term 'minivan' is used without specifying a size, it usually refers to the largest size (i.e. Large MPV).
The term minivan originated in North America in order to differentiate the smaller passenger vehicles from full-size vans (such as the Ford E-Series, Dodge Ram Van and Chevrolet Van), which were then simply called 'vans'.
The first known use of the term minivan was in 1959, however it was not until the 1980s that the term became commonly used.
The 1936 Stout Scarab is often regarded as the first minivan. The passenger seats in the Scarab were moveable and could be configured for the passengers to sit around a table in the rear of the cabin. Passengers entered and exited the Scarab via a centrally-mounted door.
The DKW Schnellaster— manufactured from 1949 to 1962— featured front-wheel drive, a transverse engine, flat floor and multi-configurable seating, all of which would later become characteristics of minivans.
In 1950, the Volkswagen Type 2 adapted a bus-shaped body to chassis of a small passenger car (the Volkswagen Beetle). When Volkswagen introduced a sliding side door to the Type 2 in 1968, it then had the prominent features that would later come to define a minivan: compact length, three rows of forward-facing seats, station wagon-style top-hinged tailgate/liftgate, sliding side door, passenger car base.
The Ford Carousel was a prototype developed in 1973 and intended to be released in 1975, however the model was cancelled as a result of the mid-1970s fuel crisis and company financial difficulties. The Carousel was designed as a family car that would fit into a typical 7 ft (213 cm) tall American garage door opening and had interior trim levels equivalent to a passenger car rather than a cargo van.
1970s to 1990s
In the late 1970s, Chrysler began a development program to design "a small affordable van that looked and handled more like a car". The result of this program was the first American minivan, the 1984 Plymouth Voyager. The Voyager debuted the minivan design features of front-wheel drive, a flat floor and a sliding door for rear passengers. The badge-engineered Dodge Caravan was also released in for the 1984 model year, and was sold alongside the Voyager.
The term minivan came into use largely in comparison to size to full-size vans; at six feet tall or lower, 1980s minivans were intended to fit inside a typical garage door opening. In 1984, The New York Times described minivans "the hot cars coming out of Detroit," noting that "analysts say the mini-van has created an entirely new market, one that may well overshadow the... station wagon."
In response to the popularity of the Voyager/Caravan, General Motors released the 1985 Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari badge-engineered twins, and Ford released the 1986 Ford Aerostar. These vehicles used a traditional rear-wheel drive layout, unlike the Voyager/Caravan. By the end of the 1980s, demand for minivans as family vehicles had largely superseded full-size station wagons in the United States.
During the 1990s, the minivan segment underwent several major changes. Many models switched to the front-wheel drive layout used by the Voyager/Caravan minivans, for example Ford replaced the Aerostar with the front-wheel drive Mercury Villager (a rebadged Nissan Quest) for 1993 and the Ford Windstar for 1995. The models also increased in size, as a result of the extended-wheelbase ("Grand") versions of the Voyager and Caravan which were in 1987. An increase in luxury features and interior equipment was seen in the 1988 Ford Aerostar Eddie Bauer, the 1990 Chrysler Town & Country and the 1990 Oldsmobile Silhouette. The third-generation Plymouth Voyager, Dodge Caravan and Chrylser Town & Country— released for the 1996 model year— were available with an additional sliding door on the drivers side.
2000 to present
The highest selling year for minivans was in 2000, when 1.4 million units were sold. However in the following years, the increasing popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) began to erode sales of minivans. North American sales of the Volkswagen Transporter (sold as the 'Volkswagen Eurovan') ceased in 2003. Ford exited the segment in 2006, when the Ford Freestar was cancelled, Chrysler discontinued its short-wheelbase minivans in 2007 (although long-wheelbase minivans remained in production in the form of the Chrysler RT-platform minivans) and General Motors exited the segment in 2009 with the cancellation of the Chevrolet Uplander. It has been suggested that the lesser popularity of minivans than SUVs is due to the minivan's image as a vehicle for older drivers.
In 2013, sales of the segment reached approximately 500,000 (one-third of its 2000 peak). Despite the declining sales for the segment in the late 2000s, several European brands launched minivans in the North American market. The Volkswagen Routan (a rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan) was sold from 2009-2013. In 2010, Ford began North American sales of the European-built Ford Transit Connect Wagon. North American sales of the Mercedes-Benz Vito (sold as the 'Mercedes-Benz Metris') began in 2016. However, the Nissan Quest and Mazda MPV were both discontinued in 2016.
The five highest selling models in the United States in 2018 were the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Kia Sedona.
Dodge Grand Caravan
The first European minivan was the 1984 Renault Espace, a front-wheel drive mivivan with four front-hinged doors. The Espace began development in the 1970s as a project of Chrysler's European division and was launched in the same year as the first American minivan (the Plymouth Voyager). Although slow-selling at first, the Espace would go on to become one of the most successful vans of the segment.
In 1994, the Citroën Evasion / Fiat Ulysse / Lancia Zeta / Peugeot 806 badge-engineered minivan models were introduced. More badge-engineered models were released the following year, in the form of the Ford Galaxy / Volkswagen Sharan / Seat Alhambra models.
Following production of several compact MPVs since the early 1980s (such as the Nissan Prairie and Mitsubishi Chariot), the first minivan produced in Asia was the 1988 Mazda MPV. The Mazda MPV was designed for the American market, however it was later also sold in Japan and other markets. It was based on the platform of the Mazda Luce/929 luxury sedan.
Toyota's first minivan based on a passenger car chassis was the 1990 Toyota Previa (also sold as the 'Estima' and 'Tarago'). The Previa remains in production to this day, however in North America it was replaced by the Toyota Sienna in 1997. The 1982—1991 Toyota TownAce van was sold in North America (called the 'Toyota Van') prior to the Previa minivan being introduced. The Townace was based on the commercial vehicle platform of the Toyota LiteAce, due to its smaller size than the American-built vans of the time, it was sometimes referred to as a 'mini-van'.
Honda's first minivan was the 1994 Honda Odyssey (sold as the 'Shuttle' in Europe). The Odyssey has remains in production to this day, however since 1999 a separate, larger version of the Odyssey has been produced for the United States and Canada.
The Kia Carnival (also sold as the Kia Sedona and Hyundai Entourage) was released in 1998 and remains in production to the present. Another minivan from South Korea is the SsangYong Rodius, which has been produced since 2004.
In 1999, the Buick GL8 minivan began production solely for the Chinese market. The GL8 is based on a platform shared with General Motors' North American minivans and remains in production to this day.
The 2003 Mitsubishi Grandis was the first minivan from Mitsubishi (not including compact MPVs such as the Mitsubishi Chariot). The Grandis was discontinued in 2011.
Related vehicle categories
Compact MPV— an abbreviation for Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle— is a vehicle size class for the middle size of MPVs/minivans. The Compact MPV size class sits between the mini MPV and minivan size classes.
Compact MPVs remain predominantly a European phenomenon, although they are also built and sold in many Latin American and Asian markets. As of 2016, the only compact MPV sold widely in the United States is the Ford C-Max.
Mini MPV— an abbreviation for Mini Multi-Purpose Vehicle— is a vehicle size class for the smallest size of minivans (MPVs). The Mini MPV size class sits below the compact MPV size class and the vehicles are often built on the platforms of B-segment hatchback models.
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