Fleets inflating domestic minivan sales numbers

In recent years, we know very few people with kids who have opted to buy domestic minivans as the primary family hauler. More often than not, we hear the Odyssey and Sienna names put forth, followed by an assortment of SUVs, domestic and otherwise. Some people have undoubtedly abandoned a domestic brand for one of the Japanese big guns. This isn't surprising, since the Odyssey and Sienna do the job very well.

Now comes word in Automotive News that fleet sales are keeping up the illusion that the domestics' position in this segment is merely calamitous and not utterly cataclysmic. Rick Kranz points out that from January through October '06, fleets accounted for 65-percent of Ford Freestar sales, 62-percent of Chevy Uplander sales, and over 40-percent of the DCX vans. And what of the Odyssey? Fleets account for 1 percent of sales. No wonder Ford and GM are all about the crossover nowadays. Their minivans are the stars in a Weekend at Bernies sequel in which they're playing the part of Bernie.

Ford's bailing out and pulling the ripcord labeled "FAIRLANE," while GM prepares its trio of new large crossovers -- the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave -- with hopes for 130,000 in combined sales, according to North American sales veep Mark LaNeve. Chrysler, which as the inventor of the minivan has a lot of prestige on the line, will stay in the fight and unveil its fully redesigned vans at the Detroit show next week.

The overall market for minivans has been shrinking for several years in a row, and many of the automakers point to that as justification for looking to crossovers. We doubt that Honda and Toyota execs are fretting, however, since the (real) people buying minivans are apparently choosing theirs. Chrysler knows what it's doing here, so we hope to see something good next week. The market may be shrinking, but there is still a market for the things. It just takes a high-quality product to compete.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]

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