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A minivan is a type of vehicle body style that is defined as having a large 1- or 2-box design similar to that of a commercial or full-sized van. Minivans are typically between five and six feet tall and feature two or three rows of seating. The body style is designed to maximize storage capacity and/or passenger room. Popular 2008 model year minivans include the Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest. In other parts of the world, a minivan may be referred to as a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV).

Distinguishing Characteristics of the Minivan

While similar to several different vehicle body styles, the minivan is easily distinguishable through a variety of features. In comparison to a full-sized van, minivans are shorter in both height and length. Traditional vans are also traditionally designed so that the driver's seat is situated directly above the front wheel axle, whereas a minivan driver's seat is situated behind the front wheel axle.

In comparison to car-based vehicles such as the sedan and station wagon, minivans feature unique characteristics such as higher seats with a higher H-point and additional rear cabin space. Minivans can also be distinguished from other light truck vehicles (such as an SUV) through a uni-body construction and front-wheel drive configuration. Some minivans feature a sliding rear side door as opposed to traditional hinged doors. This feature is unique to the minivan body style.

Types of Minivan Body Styles

In the United States, virtually all minivans can be categorized as a large minivan. This classification typically refers to a minivan with an approximate length of 15 feet. However, in Europe and Asia, other types of minivan body styles are available. The two most popular of these include:

  • Compact MPVs: minivans with a body length between 13.75 and 15 feet
  • Mini MPVs: minivans less than 13.5 feet in length

Popularity of the Minivan in America

Minivans were first introduced in 1984 by Chrysler and Toyota. The body style was (and continues to be) geared towards suburban families that require considerable rear storage capacity. The minivan was seen by automakers as a viable alternative to larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles and the smaller, less roomy station wagon. Because of these advantages, the minivan remained considerably popular until the rise of the SUV in the 1990s.

Just as the minivan largely replaced the station wagon, the SUV has diminished the appeal of the minivan. This is in large part due to the SUV's similar storage capacity and more rugged image. The introduction of the crossover SUV in the early 2000s blended the styling of SUVs and minivans. This new body style served to further reduce the popularity of minivans in the United States.