Why Aren't Minivans Popular Anymore?
  • Image Credit: Getty Images

Why Aren't Minivans Popular Anymore?

Do you remember the golden age of the early 1990s when everyone wore neon and moms drove minivans? Those days are behind us (thankfully, at least for our fashion sense), but the automotive needs that families have in the 2000s haven't changed all that drastically over the last 20 years.

But try to look for a minivan at an elementary school parking lot and you'll be hard pressed to find one. Now, most moms opt for the "suburban assault vehicle," otherwise known as the SUV (sport utility vehicle).

Why are moms dropping minivans for SUVs? We look at the reasons why this change occurred.
Reason #1: Visibility From Driver's Seat
  • Image Credit: GM

Reason #1: Visibility From Driver's Seat

Safey is a big issue when anyone shops for a vehicle, but for families the notion of safety is even more important.

Small drivers often complain that they wish they could see more of the road (and the space around their vehicle). SUVs offer smaller drivers a higher seating position relative to the ground, but they also contributed to the problem. Often small drivers end up opting for SUVs simply because the other cars on the road have gotten taller (read: more SUVs on the road), creating a snowballing effect.
Reason #2: Minivans Didn't Evolve, Still Boxy
  • Image Credit: GM, Honda

Reason #2: Minivans Didn't Evolve, Still Boxy

Where minivans always hovered around roughly the same price (right now that means about $20,000 to $35,000), SUVs have presented consumers with a lot more choice.

Minivans only come in one basic size (if you don't count full-size vans, which you really shouldn't if you're discussing minivans) and haven't really presented the consumer with choice. SUVs? Any size, shape or configuration you'd like. SUV buyers simply have more purchase options than minivan buyers. For example, the differences between these two popular SUVs (a Chevy Suburban and Honda CR-V) are obvious in terms of shape, price and usage.
Reason #3: Loading Can Be Easier With Some SUVs
  • Image Credit: Honda

Reason #3: Loading Can Be Easier With Some SUVs

Child car seats are heavy, even without the child! As minivan seats tend to be anchored more toward the center of the vehicle (and lower relative to the ground), they require mom to stretch far for a simple load-in/load-out procedure. Some SUVs (not all, mind you) are actually easier for loading as their seats sit closer to the edge of the vehicle and some can be positioned on a near flat plane with the hip height of the average person. This tends to make loading easier on some vehicles.
Reason #4: Moms Are More Independent When Buying The Family Vehicle
  • Image Credit: Ford

Reason #4: Moms Are More Independent When Buying The Family Vehicle

Cultural shifts happen minute by minute, but over the last 20 years there has been a dramatic shift in the way women "own" more of the purchase process for a vehicle. As the average age of pregnancy rises, women are having more independent automotive purchase experiences. This, in turn, is creating a more educated automotive consumer (for both Mom and Dad) and means the automobile is less of a purely functional purchase and more of a blend of function and image statement. Moms are less likely to "accept" minivan and want to make their own choice.
Reason #5: SUVs Are Riding On Car Chassis
  • Image Credit: Honda

Reason #5: SUVs Are Riding On Car Chassis

Whereas the SUVs of the 1980s were rude and crude (consider the old full-size Ford Broncos or Chevy Tahoes), new SUVs can be nearly as quiet as the family sedan. Why did this happen? SUVs actually stole a good amount from the sedan. Manufacturers now create a good deal of SUVs on car platforms (these are known as crossover vehicles), so the Honda CR-V is actually sharing many parts with the Honda Civic. This makes for infinitely more drivable and livable SUVs and moms are taking notice.
Reason #6: More Innovation, Technology in SUVs
  • Image Credit: Ford

Reason #6: More Innovation, Technology in SUVs

Manufacturers put their best stuff where they can make the most money. Over the last 20 years this has largely been focused on the truck and SUV side of the market. As a result, SUVs tend to receive a lot of technological advancements and product innovations before other products do.

While minivans can boast about in-car entertainment systems, SUVs have it all over their boxy compatriots in just about every other category. This glass roof on the Ford Edge is one example.
Reason #7: There Are Hardly Any Minivans To Pick From
  • Image Credit: Chrysler

Reason #7: There Are Hardly Any Minivans To Pick From

How many minivans are on the market today? You might be surprised, but there are only seven true minivans on sale in 2009: Chrysler's Town & Country, Dodge's Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna and the Volkswagen Routan. The rest have dropped out the market. That lack of choice (compared to well over 50 different models in the SUV and crossover category) was, of course, accelerated by the lack of demand. However, minivans will never come roaring back as a popular vehicle if car companies fail to offer choice.
Reason #8: Putting It Off Due To Shorter Ownership Cycles
  • Image Credit: Credit

Reason #8: Putting It Off Due To Shorter Ownership Cycles

As shifts have changed for the minivan, moms have simply put the purchase of a minivan back. This was made possible by the shift in the way (and the length) that people drive vehicles in the U.S.; more people are choosing to lease for a few years or turn that new car in after a short period of time. This shorter ownership cycle has created the freedom of "tasting" wherein a family can justify a vehicle that might not fit their long-term needs because, simply, it's not a long-term decision. In a world where a minivan purchase can be pushed back for two more years, many moms are opting to wait.
Reason #9: SUVs Offer More Design "Flair"
  • Image Credit: Land Rover

Reason #9: SUVs Offer More Design "Flair"

The shape of the minivan might have been groundbreaking in the 1980s (when moms were growing tired of the station wagon), but the design is hardly contemporary now. Even the best looking minivans appear boxy.

SUVs, on the other hand, have shown a wide range of design language over the years (consider the differences between a Honda Element, Chevrolet Tahoe and Land Rover Range Rover).

This diversity of design means that SUVs tend to fracture into different parts of the market and different designs appeal to different people. In turn, it allows for more buyers.

As the entire market (including, yes, moms) looks to interior design as a way to differentiate one vehicle from the next, SUVs present much more choice. You'll never find, say, the interior flourishes of this Land Rover in a minivan product.
Reason #10: Moms Don't Want To Be "Just Moms"
  • Image Credit: Kia

Reason #10: Moms Don't Want To Be "Just Moms"

What's the basic function of a minivan? A family hauler, right?

But the definition of a SUV is something different entirely. While we might know the vehicle as a common family hauler today, it still has its origin in off roading and the sort of free-roaming spirit that a lot of us have (or wish we had) inside. Moms are choosing to select a vehicle that stands for something greater than simply soccer practice taxi service. What that means is something each mom might define for herself, but having the option is what's important.


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