A minivan is a vehicle designed primarily for passenger safety and comfort, with three rows of adult-size seats, access through large sliding doors, and car-like handling and fuel economy. Minivans are purchased for their versatility and can often transport more people than a three-row sport utility vehicle, and also with better comfort, access, and fuel economy. Like most modern vehicles, minivans are typically of unibody construction with front-wheel drive. They also feature a short, sloping aerodynamic hood. They are usually taller than sedans or station wagons, affording a good view of the road. Minivans usually have removable seats to allow hauling of cargo on a flat floor.
Predecessors of the minivan
Antecedents include the 1936 Stout Scarab, which featured a removable table and second row seats that turn 180 degrees to face the rear. The DKW Schnellaster, manufactured from 1949 to 1962 was one of the first vehicles to feature the characteristics of modern minivans. In 1950, the Volkswagen Type 2 adapted a bus-shaped body to the compact Volkswagen Beetle. When Volkswagen introduced a sliding side door on their van in 1968, it then had all the 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. Fiat built a similar vehicle, the 1956 Multipla based on the Fiat 600 with the same "cab over" engine and door layout.
In the 1970s, as vans grew larger, minivans grew out of a quest to add functionality back into to their design. In 1972, designers at Ford Motor Company created the Ford Carousel prototype as a variant of the upcoming redesign of the 1975 Ford Econoline. To better fit a van into a typical 7-foot (213 cm) tall American garage door opening, the Carousel was designed with a lower (6-feet tall) roofline and trim similar to a station wagon and a personal luxury car; rather than a cargo carrier, Carousel was intended a family vehicle. The vehicle was never produced, due to the mid-1970s fuel crisis and company financial difficulties. Nearly a decade later, the concept was revisited by designers and produced in somewhat different form as the Ford Aerostar. Chrysler began a six-year development program to design "a small affordable van that looked and handled more like a car" and introduced the first modern minivans in 1983, the front-wheel-drive Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager.
- The Japanese market has had the Mazda Bongo since 1966 and more recently includes the Toyota Alphard, the Nissan Elgrand, and the Honda Elysion.
- In South Korea, minivans include the Kia Carnival and SsangYong Rodius. These are both marketed internationally.
- The Buick GL8 is produced and sold since 2000 in China under the Buick brand name by Shanghai GM, the joint-venture of SAIC Motor with General Motors Corporation.
In 1984 the Chrysler minivans arrived on the market to great success. The minivan replaced the station wagon as the large passenger car of choice in the US. In 1987 Chrysler introduced the extended-length ("Grand") minivans. The Chrysler Town & Country debuted in 1990. The term minivan came into use in North America in contrast to full-size vans. The minivan's market share peaked in 2000 with sales of 1.4 million units in US. This shrank to about half a million in 2013.
In 2014, sales of minivans in America increased 6% over 2013. In terms of market share, approximately 94% of the segment is shared nearly equally by the Chrysler minivans (Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan), Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna; the best-selling vehicle varies from year to year. The remaining 6% of the segment is shared largely by the Ford Transit Connect, Kia Sedona, Mazda 5 (discontinued after the 2015 model year), and Nissan Quest.
- Toyota: former models included the Van/Wagon (imported versions of the TownAce from Japan) from 1984 to 1989, and the Previa from 1990 to 1997; replaced by the American-built Sienna.
- General Motors: former models included the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari from 1985 to 2005, a rear-wheel drive minivan based on light trucks. Also sold front-wheel drive APV minivans from 1990 to 1996 (sold as Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile); replaced by Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Montana, and Oldsmobile Silhouette; later replaced by Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, and Buick Terraza, marketed as crossover SUVs; GM exited minivan segment completely in 2008 .
- Ford: former models included the Ford Aerostar from 1986 to 1997 and the 1995-2007 Ford Windstar/Ford Freestar/Mercury Monterey after which Ford exits the minivan segment, returning in 2014 with the imported Ford Transit Connect Wagon.
- Nissan: former models include the Van/Wagon (imported versions of the Vanette from Japan) from 1987 to 1990; the first two generations of the Nissan Quest were developed with Ford and marketed as the Mercury Villager from 1992 to 2002. The 2004 Nissan Quest was developed exclusively by Nissan, built in both the United States and Japan.
- Mitsubishi imported the Delica Star Wagon as the Mitsubishi Van/Wagon from 1987 to 1990
- Isuzu sold a badge-engineered Honda Odyssey as the Isuzu Oasis from 1996 to 1999.
- Mazda: the 1989-1998 Mazda MPV was the first Japanese-brand minivan designed specifically for North America. It is replaced in 2005 by the Mazda5, which was discontinued in 2015.
- Volkswagen: former models include the 1979-1991 Vanagon, replaced by the Eurovan sold from 1993 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2003. From 2008 to 2012, Volkswagen sold a rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan as the Volkswagen Routan.
DKW Schnellaster (1949-1962), with front-wheel drive, transverse engine, flat floor, and multi-configurable seating
1986 Dodge Caravan in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
Buick GL8, produced and sold in China since 2000
Fourth generation Renault Espace
The Chrysler Town and Country is a modern minivan
The Toyota Vellfire is a modern minivan
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