Often considered a boxy relic from the 1980s and the antithesis of “cool” by more discriminating drivers, the minivan was dropped altogether by automakers including Ford (F) and General Motors (GM) . Those automakers who stuck with the family shuttle reaped the benefits as recently as last months.
Sales of the Toyota Sienna minivan jumped 4.5% in August to nearly 12,400 vehicles. In the entire Toyota stable, the Sienna is outsold only by the mid-size Camry, small Corolla, Tacoma pickup and Rav4 small crossover SUV. During the first eight months of 2014, the Sienna ran neck-and-neck with Highlander full-size SUV. In August, the Sienna outsold the Highlander as families headed back to school.
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The competing Honda Odyssey, meanwhile, saw sales jump 12.9% in August to 12,500 vehicles. During the first eight months of the year, the Odyssey outsold every Honda but the mid-size Accord, small Civic and CR-V small crossover. That includes the Honda Pilot SUV, which the Odyssey is outpacing by more than 14,000 vehicles.
The biggest minivan beneficiary, by far, is Chrysler. Between the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, the automaker has sold nearly 190,000 minivans through August. That not only outpaces the sales of Toyota's RAV4 and nearly equals the sales of Honda's CRV, but it outsells every vehicle in the Chrysler family except the Ram pickup, which has moved 283,000 vehicles through August.
The Grand Caravan is the top-selling Dodge, with the second-place Journey SUV trailing by roughly 30,000 units. The Town & Country easily leads the Chrysler marque, with even the redesigned 200 mid-size trailing by 30,000 vehicles.
"The minivan has had lasting appeal because of its practical functionality. When it comes to hauling around lots of people and lots of stuff, minivans can be the most practical choice," says Brandy Schaffels, Chief Editor for AskPatty.com, an automotive advice site targeted toward women. "Unlike most large SUVs, their low and flat floors allow easy access for loading passengers and cargo, and sliding doors make it easy to get lots of people and big objects in and out quickly."
The difference in passenger and cargo space can be considerable. The GMC Acadia and Cadillac Escalade are both large SUVs with considerable cabin and cargo space. Each has about 120 cubic feet of space behind its front seats to create a comfortable and cavernous interior. Now consider that the same space in the minivans listed above ranges from 140 cubic feet for the Town & Country to 150 cubic feet for the Sienna. At its largest, that's 25% more room to work with than two of the largest SUVs on the market offer.
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