The demise of the minivan

Almost 30 years after Chrysler made the minivan a household word, sales have sunk to a new low. Here are 12 models and their stablemates that have gone to the scrapheap.

minvan opener

Chrysler, the automaker that invented the minivan, is about to kill off the second of its three minivan brands. Automotive News reports that the Grand Caravan has been dropped from Dodge's model lineup beginning in 2015. That will leave the Chrysler Town & Country as the only entry in this once widely-popular segment (the Plymouth/Chrysler Voyager died in 2003) and the only minivan made by an American manufacturer.

It has been a sad, slow decline for the pioneering people mover, which became a hit almost immediately after Chrysler introduced it in 1984 and which helped make the company, for a time, the most profitable automaker in the world. Ford (F, Fortune 500) and General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) were never able to develop competitive products, and Japanese carmakers stumbled at the start with too-small vans that didn't appeal to most American buyers

But it proved a passing fad. Minivan sales that once regularly commanded 8% of the market up until 2000 have been sliding for over a decade to their present low of 3.7% thus far in 2013. Forever associated with soccer moms, minivans have always been regarded as purchases of necessity, not aspiration. Since no vehicle shaped like a breadbox and designed to haul people could ever be stylish, their appeal was based on functionality -- and when cupholders and seven-passenger seating began appearing in crossover SUVs with greater sex appeal, their fate was sealed.

While endangered, minivans probably won't become extinct. "Even at this demand level, minivan sales remains sizable enough to be a lucrative venture for some manufacturers," says Edmunds analyst Jeremy Acevedo. "The segment still remains the best option for many buyers."

This gallery of departed minivan models is, on the one hand, a testament to the appeal and utility of the original concept -- short front overhang, command seating position, easy loading, sliding doors -- and, on the other, the fickleness of a public demand that was quickly satisfied and then moved on.


  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated September 12 2013 08:16 AM ET
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