Somewhat lost last week among all the news
of collapsing truck and SUV sales, was the continued decline of the minivan segment. Minivans have seen sales declines for years as their obvious functional advantages over SUVs has been overwhelmed by their image shortcomings. Unfortunately, the ease of getting rug rats in an out of a van also tends to bring with it a relative thirst for fuel. The Dodge Caravan with a 4L V6 is rated at 16/23mpg by the EPA, which is better than most SUVs but - if you don't have more than two kids to haul around a van - is an indulgence most people can live without in an age of $4/gallon gas. Through the end of May, minivan sales were down 20 percent and models such as the Dodge Caravan were off 25 percent in May (35 percent for the year to date). The Honda Odyssey was also down 18 percent in May and every vehicle in the segment saw sales declines. Several automakers already have or soon will discontinue their entries. The Ford Freestar was killed over a year ago and GM's minivans will go away soon, likely to be followed by the Nissan Quest.
Over the two decades since the original Chrysler minivans arrived, the average size of the vehicles has grown substantially. In the coming years, we may well see more smaller MPVs like the Mazda5 which is rated 22/28mpg. GM is already planning to build the next generation of the Opel Zafira in Detroit and Ford is considering bringing the European S-Max and C-Max to the US. These vehicles will provide most of the functionality people need in a smaller, lighter, and more efficient package.