Minivan Stigma is Alive and Well

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There is a condition that exists in American suburbs, coast to coast. It is an irrational aversion to that most practical of family vehicles, the minivan.

In the first quarter of 2014, car shoppers voting with their wallets have chosen three-row crossovers over the minivan nearly two to one. Compared with the same time period a decade ago, minivan sales have declined more than 50 percent. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles recently announced the Dodge Grand Caravan's days are numbered. The automaker plans to shed the Grand Caravan but keep its other minivan, the Chrysler Town & Country. It also plans to replace the Town & Country in mid-2016 with a new minivan as well as a hybrid version.

Read More #FamilyCarAdvice

If those numbers aren't concrete enough, we have minivan-stigma sufferers on our own staff, including our Chief Mom (and mother of three) Kristin Varela.

Below, she and managing editor (and father of two) David Thomas try to get to the heart of this decline.

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David: I think we agree that minivans are the most practical vehicles for families with either a lot of kids or a lot of stuff — or too much stuff — and a minivan's price and fuel economy are on par with the larger three-row crossovers. The only reason you wouldn't pick one — unless we get into the whole all-wheel-drive discussion — is because of the dreaded minivan stigma (said in spooky voice, a la the guide at Disneyland's Haunted Mansion). Is that really what's holding you back from going all-in on a minivan?

Kristin: Well … partially. "Stigma" implies that I care what other people think about my car, which I don't. I do, however, care what I think about my car, as I'm the one who has to spend a great deal of time in it (both with and without my family). As parents, we are always making sacrifices for our families. My car feels like one of the few areas where I can almost have my cake and eat it, too. With many of the three-row crossovers on the market, I can get almost all of a minivan's functionality in a package that appeals more to my sense of style, taste and driving preferences.

David: After having kids, I think there's a switch that's turned off in parents and they no longer care about certain things. For me, moving to suburbia meant giving up on foodie-centric restaurants, routinely seeing concerts after 9 p.m. and certainly worrying about style. This is why I have a half-dozen hooded sweatshirts in my closet and a stack of baseball caps that I don, Mr. Rogers-style, once I get home from work. I give up on paying attention to my own looks once the kids are in my orbit, and that certainly extends to our family car, a Subaru Outback. It's the least interesting car to look at, yet many of them litter my suburb and others — as much as any minivan or three-row crossover.

Kristin: So why not just throw in the towel and drive a minivan? What does your wife think of them? Maybe I'm not the norm, but I make a conscious effort to maintain my sense of self in between all the other demands of life (carpool, work, driving to dance practice, piano, field trips, sleepovers, family dinners, managing the grocery list, family budget, and on and on). I have a few things I cling to for my own sense of center: yoga, bubble baths, sushi dates with my husband, and a car I don't loathe. Maybe that's the trick. Maybe each parent has her or his few "things" that are less negotiable than others. The car is one of mine. What are yours?

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David: Well, my wife certainly would drive a minivan, and if we had three kids we likely would, but she is probably in the minority. I'm constantly talking to neighbors and other moms and dads at T-ball practice or birthday parties about what car they should buy next. I'd say 95 percent of them are asking about three-row crossovers, and if they ask about a minivan, they basically already know they're getting another Honda Odyssey or Chrysler Town & Country; they just want me to validate that their choice is the practical one. Their switches must have been triggered, too.

Kristin: The funny thing is, I don't place a stigma on other families that have minivans. They are fabulously functional — there's no arguing that — and every parent should have a friend with a minivan to schlep everyone to the zoo. I just don't want to have to keep driving one during those precious few hours I can eke out to dedicate to myself after taking care of everyone else.

Are you suffering from minivan stigma? Tell us how you've coped in the comment section below.

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

By Kristin Varela | May 30, 2014 | Comments (5)

Comments 

S56

The only issue with mini-van’s IMO is their lack of style. Three row crossover’s while not nearly as functional can be styled a number of ways to appeal to a number of people.

There is no way unless you are getting an extended size BOF SUV that you can fit as much in your Traverse as I can fit in an Odyssey with the seats removed.

When you have a lot of people and stuff the mini-van is the best option, if you need to tow a horse trailer too then get a Suburban. Otherwise you are compromising, which is fine just acknowledge that it is what you are doing.

IF VW made a really cool Micro-bus on par with the size and amenities of an Odyssey it may change things.

Lance

I actually would have no problem with a minivan if I needed the capacity(which I don't). Really, a SUV is that much more stylish than a minivan??? I don't think so. Neither are great looking, sleek vehicles by any means. It's ok to "loathe" a minivan but one should understand the very real personal reasons that one loathes it.

Nobody likes to admit that they care about what other people think about what they drive. Somehow it makes them think they may be shallow or something if they admit it. Clothes on the other hand, they have no problem admitting that they are trying to project an image of themselves. I firmly believe that the minivan stigma is much like the previous station wagon stigma.....just a different generation.

pBen

My wife wanted an Odyssey. And compared to the Pilot, it is cavernous in many ways. We owned a 2001 Odyssey. We have two teenagers and cart around a host of their friends.

This time around it boiled down to length. The Odyssey ('12) nose to tail is about a foot longer than the pilot. And getting that into our garage meant butting up against the workbench and dreading the garage door scratches when we weren't careful. We are leasing the Pilot.

When we go on trips, we are really cramped - 4 adult sized people, dog and kennel and luggage. So much so we use our yakima space saver to relieve the pressure. And from time to time my wife laments not pushing for the Odyssey. For her it is all about practicality. And the fuel economy is noticeably better in the Odyssey.

Now I don't know why I went Pilot other than that subtle twisted value of wanting more of a truck than a van. Dumb reason!

Wow.

Latest Odyssey's extreme fugliness kept us from buying one.

Wish I had snagged a 2010 before they were all gone..

Steve

My Odyssey drives and handles better than any SUV on the market, with better mileage, and it practically doubles as a pickup in re cargo capacity. If you're concerned about image, buy snazzier clothes.

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