It was a time that now seems like ancient history. In reality, it was less than 40 years ago. It was 1984 and a pair of vehicles, the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager, made their debuts. America was introduced to the mini-van, a versatile, roomy, and practical vehicle designed for young families.
What happened next was the rapid rise, and almost equally rapid fall, in popularity of the mini-van. As it began falling out of favor with the next generation of drivers, it almost became vilified and stigmatized as sales dropped dramatically.
Following the popularity of the Grand Caravan and the Voyager, other carmakers followed Chrysler into the segment. Honda had the Odyssey and Toyota introduced the Sienna. Kia manufactured the Sedona, and Ford and Chevy gave us the Transit and Venture. None could ever surpass Chrysler as the king of the mini-van, however. In 2000, when mini-van sales hit their peak, 1.33 million mini-vans were sold. The following year, just 482,000 mini-vans were sold. In 2021, the most popular mini-van was the Pacifica, but its sales only reached 35,000.
So what happened to the mini-van?
The fall of the mini-van was started by Americans having smaller families and moving back into more urban areas. There was a reputation that the mini-van was a soccer mom’s vehicle, and the next generation was moving away from that. Then, of course, the SUVs and Crossovers stood ready to take their place. Similar to the mini-van, SUVs and Crossovers signaled a new generation of more contemporary vehicles.
There is hope that vanlife enthusiasts may bring new life to the mini-van segment, but any comeback is likely to be slow. Chrysler has stopped production on the Grand Caravan and is placing its bet on the Pacifica.
The station wagon gave way to the mini-van, which gave way to the SUV and Crossover. What’s next?
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