The Poor Poor Minivan

Auto Show sports few of America’s ubiquitous family vehicles – they just aren’t cool

By: Neal Rubin

The Honda Odyssey Elite has a vacuum cleaner. Last year, 128,987 of the brand’s minivans sold in the U.S. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

From The Detroit News
Not only is it hard to get excited about minivans, it’s hard to find them. In the cavernous expanse of Cobo Center, you’ll see exactly four — and you’ll have to look hard to do it.

At the Honda display, though, Natalie Ebig Scott of Lansing was clearly enchanted with a steel blue Odyssey. And when she found out it was the model with the optional vacuum cleaner, be still her heart.

“There’s a lot of shiny, amazing-looking cars here,” conceded Scott, 33.

But she’s a working mom and she’s busy, and what she’s looking for is something to hold her 6- and 2-year-olds, “my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, a Pack ’n Play, a stroller and a Jumperoo.”

Let’s see the zippy new Mustang do that. And let’s raise a toast — in a sippy cup, most likely, or a juice box — to the ignored but not ignoble minivan.

That’s only one more minivan at the North American International Auto Show than there are Bentleys. Counting the Chevrolet Corvette mounted on a wall at the North American International Auto Show, minivans are outnumbered by Sting Rays.

As for concept vehicles, Nissan had a small fleet of them on display at press previews — but it didn’t even bother to bring a Quest. Heck, said a spokeswoman, the poor Quest hasn’t changed in three or four years anyway.

It’s almost mandatory to cheer and leer over the fabulous cars, fast cars and futuristic cars. Daydreams are even cheaper than lottery tickets, and no bored 6th-grader ever doodled minivans in the margins of his social studies notebook.

Realistically, though, how many of us ever drive cars that cost $200,000 or go 200 mph? As much as we’d love to expose our male pattern baldness to the sun in a drop-top ’Vette, what we wind up with are minivans: unnoticed, unsexy, and un-everything except unwanted.

They’re overshadowed these days by SUVs and outsold by crossovers. They’ve lost manufacturers and market share.

But Americans bought more than 500,000 of them in 2013, and there’s no better vehicle for your kid to toss his Trix in … with or without that vacuum.

Happy 30th Anniversary

As it happens, 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the modern minivan.

Similar vehicles preceded it, including a roly-poly office on wheels from 1936 called the Scout Scarab and the familiar Volkswagen bus.

The Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager blazed the trail, though: front-wheel-drive, room for seven or eight passengers, less style than your Aunt Hilda.

Bob Broderdorf, the head of SUVs, crossovers and minivans for Dodge, proudly points out that Chrysler brands have sold more than 13.5 million minivans, including more than 250,000 last year — about 141,700 for the Grand Caravan, and 110,000 for the more upscale Town & Country.

For the record, Honda spokeswoman Jessica Fini points out the Alabama-made Odyssey was the top seller to individuals, at 128,987. Whatever the nameplate, minivans share a heritage and few common issues.

First, says Broderdorf, “How do you keep beating yourself? Hands down, our biggest challenge for engineers is, ‘What’s next?’ ”

Second, how do you create sizzle when the exterior of a vehicle is pretty much stuck looking like a short loaf of Wonder bread?

Kia’s got a secret

Kia is working on that.

It didn’t bother hauling a Sedona to the auto show — not out of disrespect or boredom, says spokesman Scott McKee, but because it’s bringing out a new model later this year that will …

Well, that will be less boring and easy to disrespect.

Details are top secret, and if any spy photos have been taken, the photographers have been too embarrassed to admit it.

McKee says the designers have tried to build in every mundane thing a minivan is known for, “but improved the cool factor.“

Maybe it’ll have tailfins. Or even better, a vacuum and a mop.

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874
@nealrubin_dn

From The Detroit News

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