Minivan is an American car classification for vehicles designed to transport passengers in the rear seating row(s), with reconfigurable seats in two or three rows. The equivalent terms in British English are multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), people carrier and people mover. Minivans often have a 'one-box' or 'two-box' body configuration, a higher roof, a flat floor, a sliding door for rear passengers, and high H-point seating.
Compared with a full-size van, minivans are now based on a passenger car platform and have a lower body (to fit inside a typical garage door opening). Some early versions, such as the Ford Aerostar utilized the compact-sized Ranger pickup truck platform.
The largest size of minivans is also referred to as 'Large MPV' and became popular following the introduction of the 1984 Renault Espace and Dodge Caravan. Typically, these have platforms derived from D-segment passenger cars or compact pickups. Since the 1990s, the smaller Compact MPV and Mini MPV sizes of minivans have also become popular. If the term 'minivan' is used without specifying a size, it usually refers to the largest size (i.e. Large MPV).
The term minivan originated in North America in order to differentiate the smaller passenger vehicles from full-size vans (such as the Ford E-Series, Dodge Ram Van and Chevrolet Van), which were then simply called 'vans'.
The first known use of the term minivan was in 1959, however it was not until the 1980s that the term became commonly used.
The 1936 Stout Scarab is often regarded as the first minivan. The passenger seats in the Scarab were moveable and could be configured for the passengers to sit around a table in the rear of the cabin. Passengers entered and exited the Scarab via a centrally-mounted door.
The DKW Schnellaster— manufactured from 1949 to 1962— featured front-wheel drive, a transverse engine, flat floor and multi-configurable seating, all of which would later become characteristics of minivans.
In 1950, the Volkswagen Type 2 adapted a bus-shaped body to chassis of a small passenger car (the Volkswagen Beetle). When Volkswagen introduced a sliding side door to the Type 2 in 1968, it then had the prominent features that would later come to define a minivan: compact length, three rows of forward-facing seats, station wagon-style top-hinged tailgate/liftgate, sliding side door, passenger car base.
1970s to 1990s
In the late 1970s, Chrysler began a development program to design "a small affordable van that looked and handled more like a car." The result of this program was the first American minivan, the 1984 Plymouth Voyager. The Voyager debuted the minivan design features of front-wheel drive, a flat floor and a sliding door for rear passengers. The badge-engineered Dodge Caravan was also released in for the 1984 model year, and was sold alongside the Voyager.
The term minivan came into use largely in comparison to size to full-size vans; at six feet tall or lower, 1980s minivans were intended to fit inside a typical garage door opening. In 1984, The New York Times described minivans "the hot cars coming out of Detroit," noting that "analysts say the mini-van has created an entirely new market, one that may well overshadow the... station wagon."
In response to the popularity of the Voyager/Caravan, General Motors released the 1985 Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari badge-engineered twins, and Ford released the 1986 Ford Aerostar. These vehicles used a traditional rear-wheel drive layout, unlike the Voyager/Caravan. By the end of the 1980s, demand for minivans as family vehicles had largely superseded full-size station wagons in the United States.
During the 1990s, the minivan segment underwent several major changes. Many models switched to the front-wheel drive layout used by the Voyager/Caravan minivans, for example Ford replaced the Aerostar with the front-wheel drive Mercury Villager (a rebadged Nissan Quest) for 1993 and the Ford Windstar for 1995. The models also increased in size, as a result of the extended-wheelbase ("Grand") versions of the Voyager and Caravan which were in 1987. An increase in luxury features and interior equipment was seen in the Eddie Bauer version of the 1988 Ford Aerostar, the 1990 Chrysler Town & Country and the 1990 Oldsmobile Silhouette. The third-generation Plymouth Voyager, Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country — released for the 1996 model year — were available with an additional sliding door on the drivers side.
2000 to present
The highest selling year for minivans was in 2000, when 1.4 million units were sold. However, in the following years, the increasing popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) began to erode sales of minivans. North American sales of the Volkswagen Transporter (sold as the 'Volkswagen Eurovan') ceased in 2003. Ford exited the segment in 2006, when the Ford Freestar was cancelled, Chrysler discontinued its short-wheelbase minivans in 2007 (although long-wheelbase minivans remained in production in the form of the Chrysler RT-platform minivans) and General Motors exited the segment in 2009 with the cancellation of the Chevrolet Uplander. It has been suggested that the lesser popularity of minivans is due to the minivan's image as a vehicle for older, domestically-oriented drivers.
In 2013, sales of the segment reached approximately 500,000 (one-third of its 2000 peak). Despite the declining sales for the segment in the late 2000s, several European brands launched minivans in the North American market. The Volkswagen Routan (a rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan) was sold from 2009-2013. In 2010, Ford began North American sales of the European-built Ford Transit Connect Wagon. North American sales of the Mercedes-Benz Vito (sold as the 'Mercedes-Benz Metris') began in 2016. However, the Nissan Quest and Mazda MPV were both discontinued in 2016.
The five highest selling models in the United States in 2018 were the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Kia Sedona.
Dodge Grand Caravan
Introduced several months after the Chrysler minivans, the 1984 Renault Espace was the first European-developed minivan developed primarily for passenger use (as the Volkswagen Caravelle/Vanagon was a derivative of a commercial van). Beginning development in the 1970s under the European subsidiaries of Chrysler, the Espace was intended as a successor for the Matra Rancho (a primitive CUV), leading to its use of front-hinged doors. While slow-selling at the time of its release, the Espace would go on to become the most successful European-brand minivans.
Initially intending to sell the Espace in the United States, the 1987 sale of AMC to Chrysler cancelled plans of Renault doing so. At the end of the 1980s, Chrysler and Ford commenced sales of American-brand minivans in Europe, selling the Chrysler Voyager and Ford Aerostar (with varying degrees of success). Deriving its minivans from American designs, General Motors imported the Oldsmobile Silhouette (branded as the Pontiac Trans Sport), later marketing the American-produced Opel/Vauxhall Sintra.
In the 1990s, several joint ventures produced long-running minivan designs. In 1994, the Sevel Nord-produced Eurovans were introduced, marketed by Citroën, Fiat, Lancia, and Peugeot; two generations were produced through 2014. In contrast to the Espace, the Eurovans were produced with two sliding doors; to increase interior space, the gearshift was relocated to the dashboard and the handbrake was moved. In 1995, Ford of Europe and Volkswagen entered a joint venture, producing the Ford Galaxy, SEAT Alhambra, and Volkswagen Sharan. Adopting a similar configuration as the Espace, the three model lines were launched with front-hinged doors; for 2010, SEAT and Volkswagen introduced a second generation, adopting sliding doors. Despite high expectations during the 1990s, the full-size MPV market fell short, and some consumers thought of MPVs as being large like vans. Other MPVs on the market at the time include Mitsubishi Space Wagon and Honda Shuttle. Renault set a new "compact MPV" standard with the Renault Scenic in 1996 which became a hit.
Renault Espace (1984–present)
Chrysler (Grand) Voyager (1988-2016)
SEAT Alhambra (1995–present)
Volkswagen Sharan (1995–present)
Ford Galaxy (1995–present)
Citroen Evasion (1994-2002)
Fiat Ulysse (1994-2010)
Contrasting with compact passenger vans developed from commercial vehicles, Japanese manufacturers commenced development of minivans starting from compact MPVs in the 1980s. In 1982, the Nissan Prairie became one of the first compact minivans. Derived closely from a compact sedan, the Prairie was configured with sliding doors, folding rear seats, and a lifting rear hatch. The Mitsubishi Chariot (exported to North America as the Colt Vista) adopted nearly the same form factor, using wagon-style front-hinged doors.
In 1989, the Mazda MPV was introduced as the first full-size minivan (derived from the Mazda 929 sedan). Developed primarily for American sales, the MPV exceeded Japanese compact size regulations; it was also sold in Japan and other markets. In line with American minivans, a passenger-side door was used; a hinged door was used (a driver-side door was introduced for 1996).
For 1990, the Toyota Previa mid-engine minivan was introduced (sold as the Estima in Japan). While largely retaining the configuration of its TownAce predecessor, the Previa was designed solely as a passenger vehicle, with nearly panoramic window glass (excluding the B and D-pillars). Replaced in North America by the locally produced Sienna, the Previa remains in production for Japanese and Australian markets; the larger Alphard is produced as a luxury vehicle.
Following the introduction of the Nissan Quest (co-developed with Ford for North America), Nissan introduced the Nissan Elgrand in 1997 for worldwide markets; the Nissan Serena has grown into the large MPV segment as well.
Honda has produced its Honda Odyssey line of minivans since 1994; since 1999, a separate (larger) version has been produced for the United States and Canada. Until 2013, the Japan-produced version of the Odyssey was designed with front-hinged doors. In a design feature that was adopted by other manufacturers, the first generation of the Odyssey featured a rear seat that folded flat into the floor.
Expanding beyond compact MPVs, Mitsubishi entered the minivan segment in 2003 with the Mitsubishi Grandis, using front-hinged doors. Sold outside of North America, the Grandis was marketed through 2011.
Adapting a similar layout to the Chrysler minivans, the Kia Carnival (also sold the Kia Sedona) was introduced in 1998 with dual sliding doors. Sharing its configuration with the Honda Odyssey, the Hyundai Trajet was sold from 1999 to 2008 in markets outside of North America; the Hyundai Entourage was a rebadged Kia Sedona.
Introduced in 2004, the SsangYong Rodius is the highest-capacity minivan, seating up to 11 passengers.
In 1999, Shanghai GM commenced production of the Buick GL8 minivan, derived from a minivan platform designed by GM in the United States. After two generations of production, the GL8 is the final minivan produced by General Motors or its joint ventures today.
Related vehicle categories
Compact MPV— an abbreviation for Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle— is a vehicle size class for the middle size of MPVs/minivans. The Compact MPV size class sits between the mini MPV and minivan size classes.
Compact MPVs remain predominantly a European phenomenon, although they are also built and sold in many Latin American and Asian markets. As of 2016, the only compact MPV sold widely in the United States is the Ford C-Max.
Mini MPV — an abbreviation for Mini Multi-Purpose Vehicle — is a vehicle size class for the smallest size of minivans (MPVs). The Mini MPV size class sits below the compact MPV size class and the vehicles are often built on the platforms of B-segment hatchback models.
Leisure activity vehicle
A leisure activity vehicle (abbreviated LAV) is a small van or minivan; the segment is popularized primarily in Europe. One of the first LAVs was the 1977 Matra Rancho (among the first crossover SUVs and a precursor to the Renault Espace), with European manufacturers expanding the segment in the late 1990s, following the introduction of the Citroen Berlingo and Renault Kangoo.
Leisure activity vehicles are typically derived from supermini or subcompact car platforms, differing from mini MPVs in body design. To maximize interior space, LAVs are taller in height with a vertically-oriented liftgate (or the side-hinged doors of a cargo van); the body typically features a more vertically-oriented windshield and longer hood/bonnet. Marketed as an alternative to sedan-derived small family cars, LAVs have seating with a lower H-point than MPVs or minivans, offering two (or three) rows of seating.
Though sharing underpinnings with superminis, subcompacts, and mini MPVs, the use of an extended wheelbase can make leisure activity vehicles longer than the vehicles they are derived from. For example, the Fiat Doblò is one of the longest LAVs with a total length of 4,255 mm (167.5 in), versus the 4,050 mm (159.4 in) of the Opel Meriva (a mini MPV) and the 4,030 mm (158.7 in) of the Peugeot 206 SW (a supermini).
List of leisure activity vehicles (similar vehicles are grouped together):
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