Minivans, With All Their Advantages, Finally Get Millennials’ Appreciation

True, it took a global supply-chain disaster to make it happen, but a day has arrived in the U.S. auto industry that I long wished for — but never thought would happen. The minivan officially is back in style.

Sales of the Toyota Sienna, America’s best-selling minivan in 2021, more than doubled over 2020, according to Edmunds. Sienna jockeyed with the Chrysler Pacifica last year for the leading position, though supplies of the latter were constricted by chip shortages. There are only five choices of minivans these days in the U.S. market, which also include the Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey and Kia Carnival.

Of course, a major part of the reversal of fate of minivans has been microchip shortages that have been huge disasters for many of the sport-utility vehicles that gradually but inexorably replaced minivans in the minds and hearts of American families. This phenomenon seems to continue to pick up momentum as the auto industry’s overall chip-supply debacle drags on and on.

The average price of new minivans as a category was up 43% nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 from the same quarter in 2017, the largest percentage gain of any vehicle category, according to Edmunds. Prices of three-year-old Dodge Grand Caravans were up 64% in the quarter from the year-earlier quarter, to more thjan $25,000, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Another factor is that minivans have evolved into one of the most opportunistic categories in the electric-vehicle revolution. Sienna is only available in a hybrid form, and Chrysler offers Pacifica in a hybrid form with prices beginning at about $47,000, or about $10,000 more than the entry price for its internal-combustion form.

But what may be afoot is even more than these circumstances. Is it possible that long-disaffected millennials are finally giving minivans the long look and serious consideration that they have deserved, well, as long as millennials have been giving minivans the proverbial bird?

As a several-time lessor of the old Chrysler Town & Country minivan back in the day, I had a huge appreciation for the vehicle form that Lee Iacocca originally introduced back in the 1980s. His front-wheel-drive minivans were more fuel-efficient than most truck-based SUVs, capacious for both humans and cargo, offering a huge “greenhouse” of high visbility to front-seat passengers, innovating the convenience of sliding side doors … and on and on. They even drove relatively well.

But in subsequent years, when I would recommend consideration of a minivan purchase to my own millennial offspring and to just about any other car-buying millennial around, invariably I would get polite dismissal of the idea. They just couldn’t wrap their heads, or their pocketbooks, around the idea of investing in a vehicle form in which many of their parents had schlepped them to and from school, to and from sports and music practices, to and from vacation destinations.

Now that many millennials and a growing number of Gen Z parents apparently are giving a serious look at both new and used minivans, I’m not only appreciative and self-satisfied — I’m a bit jealous. They get to take advantage of modern minivan innovations that were only aspirations in the early days of the product format, ranging from minor improvements such as onboard vacuum cleaners to very significant improvements such as “stow-and-go” seating. The most important of all, perhaps, has been the availability of all-wheel drive.

So let’s not only retract the obituary of the American minivan. Let’s celebrate its robust new lease on life!

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