2011 Toyota Sienna
2011 Mazda MAZDA5
2011 Chrysler Town & Country
Well, I guess it's now official. Although Krome on Cars has been tracking the minivan renaissance for a while, the meme has gone mainstream, prompted by rumblings from Ford about the company's Grand C-MAX, a European mini-minivan built on the same platform as the new Ford Focus and likely headed to the U.S. But if that's going to happen, the Blue Oval may want to get a move on, as the sales of "real" minivans, like the all-new Toyota Sienna, are already gaining serious traction in the marketplace.
Current Sales: Van-tastic!
In the minivan segment today, you've got the Sienna, the all-new Honda Odyssey, and Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country'”both of which will be thoroughly refreshed in the near future'”as well as the Mazda MAZDA5 and Kia Rondo. Together, those vehicles notched 35,889 sales in September, for a combined sales jump of 69.25 percent. But the Rondo is a "dead van walking" that's no longer even listed on the Kia website, although some 111 customers purchased one last month.
The four big boys were all clustered pretty closely, with the Odyssey racking up 7,691 sales last month, the Grand Caravan selling 8,057 units, the Town & Country finding 9,0001 customers and Toyota's swagger wagon leading the way with 9,920 sales.
Then there's the MAZDA5, sales of which Ford must be watching very carefully as it contemplates what to do with the Grand C-MAX. On the one hand, the bottom line here was a mere 1,109 September sales; on the other, that represented a 70.1 percent leap as compared to the same month last year.
Expecting a Baby Boomlet?
Many in the media point to demographics as the driving force in this story. The concept is that a large chunk of the population, people who themselves grew up being driven around in minivans, is now ready to start having families of their own. And somehow, because they're used to being transported in minivans, the feeling is that they will be more open to buying them when they need family haulers.
Now, I'm sure some of that is going on. But keep in mind that plenty of baby boomers from the 1950s and very early 1960s were raised thinking wood-paneled station wagons were the go-to choice for family transportation, and neither that body style nor that design cue has made much of a comeback.
A negative reaction toward the limits of SUVs (and by extension, crossovers) is likely a significant factor in changing buyer tastes as well. Let's face it, for hauling people, minivans offer much more interior space and versatility than SUVs/crossovers, just based on their differing proportions. And you'll also notice a distinct lack of innovative seating solutions'”like Honda's "Magic Seat" or Chrysler's "Stow-n-Go" and "Swivel-n-Go"'”among those other vehicle types.
Grand Plans for the Grand C-MAX
Of course, for as functional as a MAZDA5 might be, its dimensions aren't exactly conducive to that kind of stuff either. While the Sienna and friends all clock in at more than 200 inches in length, the Mazda is 181.5 inches long'”and the European Grand C-MAX is yet a few inches shorter than that.
Fuel efficiency? Most reports indicate a U.S.-spec Grand C-MAX would be good for roughly 30 mpg highway, and achieving that nice round number would no doubt be a big advantage for the Blue Oval. Yet it's worth mentioning that Honda engineers have managed to coax 28 mpg out of the V6 Odyssey. And that Toyota is working up a hybrid rival for the mini-minivan niche. And that, if I may continue assaulting a deceased equine, fuel efficiency still isn't a major part of most buying decisions.
The Blue Oval advantage then comes down to a few key factors. First, the Grand C-MAX will leverage all of the expected economies of scale from the company's ongoing "One Ford" approach to the business. That is, it's not going to take as much money to bring it to the U.S. market as it would to launch a truly all-new vehicle. More importantly, thanks to the success of the Ford Transit Connect and the Ford Fiesta, the company has already proven it can attract customers to non-traditional vehicles'”and I don't doubt that it can do the same with the Grand C-MAX.