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Minivan

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A modern minivan - 2004 Chrysler Town & Country
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A modern minivan - 2004 Chrysler Town & Country

A minivan, minibus, people carrier, multi utility vehicle (MUV), or multi purpose vehicle (MPV) is a type of vehicle which has a body that resembles a van, but which has rear side doors, rear side windows, and interior fittings to accommodate passengers similar to a station wagon. Minivans are higher than normal sedans, compacts and station wagons, and are designed for maximum interior room; minivans often feature three seat rows and can seat 7 people or more.

The original "minivan" was developed by Volkswagen in about 1950 with the Volkswagen Type 2 "minibus" and variants. The VW Type 2 had a rear engine and rear-wheel drive. VW currently makes a modern variant with a front engine and front-wheel drive which is very similar to the vehicles discussed below. In 1952 the Lloyd Motoren Werke, Bremen (a brand of the Borgward Group) introduced their Lloyd LT (Picture), that was, in retrospect, even closer to the minivan of nowadays.

US auto manufacturers countered with "vans", which were coincidentally sized similarly, and based on compact cars. They had flat noses and either engines mounted between and behind the front seat such as the Dodge A100, Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Van, or similarly aircooled in the rear in the Chevrolet Corvair. These would evolve into more powerful trucks based on full-sized pickup trucks which by comparison had poor gas mileage, high floors, and inflexible bolted-to-the-floor bench seating.

The modern revision design was developed simultaneously in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Chrysler UK/Matra (launched by Renault as the Espace) and the Chrysler Corporation. Minivan is the more usual term in North American English whilst the other terms predominate elsewhere in the English speaking world. In India, however, the acronym used is MUV, in line with a similar acronym, SUV. In German, the word "Minivan" is only used for compact MPVs like the Renault Scénic.

Contents

History

Minivans were launched to the market almost simultaneously by Chrysler (Dodge Caravan) in late 1983 and by Renault (Renault Espace) in 1984. Though these two cars were developed almost entirely separately, they can each trace their roots back to the same point: the minivan design was originally conceived in the late-1970's by Chrysler UK in partnership with the French manufacturer Matra (who were also affiliated with Simca, the former French subsidiary of the Chrysler Corporation, who were sold in 1977 to the PSA Group (Peugeot-Citroën). The Chrysler-UK/Matra design was originally intended to be sold as a Talbot, and to be a replacement for the Talbot-Matra-Simca Rancho station wagon. Early prototypes were designed to use Simca parts, and hence featured a grille reminiscent of the Simca 1307. However, after acquiring all of Chrysler's European assets, PSA decided the design was too expensive and risky to put into production, and Matra took their idea to Renault, who agreed (PSA finally ventured into the minivan sector 11 years later with the Citroën Evasion/Peugeot 806). The Matra concept became the Renault Espace. However, Chrysler, under whom Matra had originally conceived the Espace, had also been developing the minivan concept themselves, and managed to release their own Dodge Caravan a year earlier than the Espace in 1983. The term "minivan" derived from the fact that cars such as the Dodge Caravan were considerably smaller than traditional North American passenger vans such as the Ford E-Series.

The target market for the minivan were families living in suburban areas. This vehicle was a cross between the station wagon and the large work vans that people would customize for passenger travel. In North America, it came at a time when families wanted a different vehicle that didn't have the stigma of the station wagon era of their parents, and also wanted better fuel economy than that of the previously popular V8-powered station wagons/vans.

The minivan also offered another change from the large van or the station wagon: front-wheel drive, usually found only on smaller automobiles. This made for easier assembly of the vehicle, and allowed for more cargo/passenger area along the floor with the absence of the drive shaft hump. Minivans typically have removable seats and with the seats removed, the cargo area in the larger minivans can hold a 4'x8' sheet of drywall or plywood flat.

In the USA, in order for the style of minivan to circumvent the 1980s emission standards, the minivan had to be classified as a truck and could not have four doors like a car. Early US minivans such as the Dodge Caravan were three door configurations with a sliding curbside door.

Early minivans came with four-cylinder motors, which although they were more efficient, were not able to meet the life span of bigger engines. It was common to require major engine repairs on the four cylinder motors. The vehicles were also extremely sluggish when these small engines were paired with hydraulic automatic transmissions. Later six cylinder motors were offered and have become a standard choice by purchasers who plan to operate the vehicle for many years. Minivans are also notorious for having problems with their transaxles.

Current models

Minivans in the North American market

2006 full-size Mazda MPV (left) and compact Mazda5 (right) minivans
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2006 full-size Mazda MPV (left) and compact Mazda5 (right) minivans

Modern minivans are now very similar to station wagons except they have a higher profile. Also, their hood is shorter, as they have more vertical room. Current models have two sliding doors, or normal doors if they are compact minivans. All minivans sold in North America have sliding doors, with the exception of the first-generation Mazda MPV, Honda Odyssey and Isuzu Oasis. The latest innovations have been power windows in sliding doors, a third row that folds back into a floor well, and on Chrysler model, middle row buckets that fold into the floor. Some minivans offer AWD models, but this is usually negated on models where seat folds into the rear floor.

In the North America, Ford and GM countered Chrysler's K-car based minvans with the truck-based front-engine, rear drive Chevrolet Astro and Ford Aerostar, but both were to switch to the front wheel drive configuration by the 1990s. Minivans in the 90s were typically best sellers at Dodge and Chrysler dealers. Nationally, the Chrysler designs continue to be the best selling models, though Honda and Toyota models sell best in states where imports are popular, such as Washington.

Minivans in the Japanese market

The Japanese imported front and under-the-floor mid engined vans starting in the 1980s, but they also switch to front wheel drive models. Initially they were sized closer to the original short-wheelbase minivans, but the market as of 2005 had changed so that every maker had standardized to a long wheelbase directly competing with / emulating Chrysler. Ironically, only Chrysler and Mazda continue to offer a short wheelbase body, and the latter sells in relatively small volumes. Chrysler's PT Cruiser is technically a small van for EPA classification purposes.

Today, many minivan manufacturers, including Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler also offer their minivans as cargo vans rather than passenger vans. These cargo vans are usually available only through fleet sales.

Minivans in the European market

The trend for compact MPVs and mini MPVs began in Europe in the late 1990s with the launch of the Renault Scénic. Compact minivans were usually cars with tall bodies but based on the chassis and engines of a small family car (in the case of the Scénic, the Renault Mégane). The runaway success of the Scénic saw the car spawn a multitude of similar vehicles, like the General Motors Zafira, the Citroën Xsara Picasso, the Volkswagen Touran, the Ford Focus C-MAX, the SEAT Altea/Toledo and the Nissan Almera Tino. By the mid-2000s, virtually all mainstream automakers in Europe had a compact MPV in their range. Such models enjoyed some popularity in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s (for example, the Mitsubishi Expo (Mitsubishi Chariot in other markets) and Nissan Axxess. For 2006, the lone compact minivan available in the United States is the Mazda5.

Also in the mid-2000s, manufacturers began to use MPV-style designs on supermini-based chassis (called "mini MPVs"), with the idea that leisure activity vehicles would be changed for mini MPVs due to better styling, comfort and building quality. Examples of them are the Opel Meriva, based on the Corsa, and the Fiat Idea, derived from the Fiat Punto chassis.

Buick GL8, sold exclusively in China
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Buick GL8, sold exclusively in China

Large MPVs are not as popular as compact MPVs, but are expected to sell better in the future after the release of newer models with less boxy styling and lower roof. An example is the 2006 Ford Galaxy and S-MAX, the latter of which is only 1.60 m tall and has a sporty looking.

Minivans in the Asian market

In the ASEAN nations and India, because of the wide geography of the region, MUVs tend to be smaller cars that can cope with uneven terrain. Among these MUVs are the Chevrolet Tavera/Isuzu Panther, Ford Fusion (Europe), Hindustan Pushpak and Toyota Qualis (replaced by the Toyota Innova).

MPVs are the best selling cars in Indonesia.The majority of Indonesian citizens are demanding for a vehicle that can carry people as much as it can while still having a normal size.Because MPVs accomodate more passengers than sedan and hatchback,the governments view MPVs as being more efficient,and because of this,MPVs have lower tax than sedans and hatchbacks in Indonesia.In the 80s,the automotive market is dominated with mpvs such as the Toyota Kijang and Isuzu Panther.In the 90s,entry level MPVs still ruled the automotive market,with the newer Toyota Kijang and Isuzu Panther,with a new competitor such as the Mitsubishi Kuda.In the early 2000s,non Indonesian designed MPVs such as the Chevrolet Zafira,Honda stream,and Kia Carnival started to get popular.In the mid 2000s,Toyota and Daihatsu introduced their new subcompact MPV,Toyota Avanza and Daihatsu Xenia,which are actually the same car but has different trims.The Toyota version is aimed for those who want to purchase a Xenia with bigger engine.At that time,the best selling car in Indonesia was Toyota Kijang Innova as it offers a large space in such an affordable cost and it is the only MPV that is still using the ladder frame chassis for cheaper cost and better off road capability rather than light weight.By the late of the 2000s,as the price of the Toyota Kijang Innova rised up and the citizens need to find a more affordable 7 seaters.By the late of the 2000s,both Toyota Avanza and Daihatsu Xenia became the best selling cars in Indonesia.At that time,Volkswagen felt confident to sell the Volkswagen Touran in Indonesia and even manufacture it there.The Touran was manufactured in Indonesia in 2009 and it became the first Volkswagen that is manufactured in Indonesia.It was exported to other South East Asia countries.Indonesia is considered as the home for MPVs.Many early MPVs for South East Asian markets are manufactured in Indonesia such as the Honda Freed (which is later also manufactured in Malaysia) and Volkswagen Touran.Indonesia also has a great potential in making practical MPVs in an affordable price.Indonesian designed MPVs are Suzuki APV,Toyota Kijang,Toyota Innova,Toyota Avanza and the Xenia version,Isuzu Panther (including the re-badge version,Chevrolet Tavera,and Daihatsu Luxio.These cars are also exported to some countries.Some of the cars are also re-badged in another country such as the Toyota Kijang which is renamed into Toyota Unser in Phillipines.The popularity of MPV in Indonesia started in 1977 where a pick up car was converted into a car that can carry a lot of passengers in a compact size called Toyota Kijang.This car later became the best selling personal car in Indonesia and later inspired the other companies to build 7 seaters mpv.In Indonesia,owning an MPV is less prestigious than owning a sedan or hatchback as it is very common and usually the majority use a car only for family purpose,while they use motorcycles for private use or at least carry 1 passenger.Sedans and hatchbacks have less carrying capaticy than MPVs,this is why sometimes MPVs are described as budget car.However,the best selling car among higher class people is a full size MPV,Toyota Alphard.Other full size MPVs such as Nissan Elgrand and Volkswagen Caravelle are also often seen in higher class residence.General Motors is planning to sell the new Chevrolet Orlando to fill up the MPV segment.


Public image and future

Minivans have a mixed image. They have a reputation for poor maneuverability and performance in comparison with other types of vehicles. However, they are also the vehicle of choice for large suburban families in the United States, where they are frequently associated with "soccer moms". Perhaps because of these associations, minivans are often seen as dowdy or boring — an ironic repetition of the stigma against station wagons that originally drove the popularity of minivans among Americans. Many buyers who need a car with a large amount of luggage and passenger space prefer the rugged, go-anywhere image of SUVs or the sporty, upscale image of European station wagons like the BMW 3 Series or the Volvo V70 provide. Whether large SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition are affected by similar stigmas as their designers attempt to compete with minivan comfort and convenience remains to be seen.

Some crossover SUVs and minivans are becoming closer together regarding design and styling. The Chrysler Pacifica and Chevrolet Equinox can be described as sporty-looking all wheel drive minivans or as un-offroader-ish crossover SUVs; the Mercedes-Benz R-Class has a mininvan shape with rounder edges, and features all wheel drive. The Ford Edge, Chevrolet HHR and Chrysler Pacifica give a sight of the future of these vehicles in North America, while the SEAT Altea, Fiat Croma and Ford S-MAX do the same for the European MPVs.

Mini MPVs

Compact MPVs / compact minivans

Large MPVs / minivans

See also

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