Cool looking minivans

A long-stagnant auto category is big again thanks to a crush of toddlers and a swanky new Chrysler.

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Mom-jeans are stylish again, Pokémon is ubiquitous, and the minivan is having a major moment. As the old saying goes: Those who fail to learn from the 1990s are doomed to repeat them.

Minivan sales in the U.S. are up 21 percent so far this year, outmatching every class of vehicle except the midsize pickup. And though the bloated kid-carrier has yet to match its heyday, U.S. drivers are on pace to buy more than 600, 000 of them this year for the first time in almost a decade. If the current pace holds, more people will purchase these soccer practice-pods than subcompact cars such as the Honda Fit or such entry-level luxury cars as the BMW 3 series.

Its renaissance was hard to see coming. Until recently, the minivan looked as though it were headed for the historical scrap heap, along with the pickup car and the Volkswagen diesel.

The antagonist? An army of SUVs. Minivan sales in the U.S. peaked in 2000 at approximately 1.4 million vehicles. Two years later, Americans bought more than 3 million SUVs for the first time. These vehicles were big, tall, and infinitely cooler. Nowadays there are roughly 100 SUVs to choose from in the U.S.—from a $20, 000 version that looks like a swollen sedan to a $100, 000 land yacht with a few longhorns-worth of leather stitched inside. Meanwhile, there are six minivans. The ratio isn’t a coincidence: When it comes to style, SUVs are considered the vehicular equivalent of a leather jacket, while minivans are a pair of cargo-shorts.

“It got this reputation for being very uncool, ” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at AutoTrader. “It was the whole soccer-mom thing.”

The sacrifice with SUVs, of course, is convenience. They generally aren’t as low as minivans, so toddlers have to clamber into them like tree-forts. The doors swing, rather than slide. And while many of these big rigs have three rows of seats, they come at the expense of space. Even the massive Cadillac Escalade has only 94 cubic feet of open real estate in the back, about one-third less than a contemporary minivan.

“There’s really nothing else like it cargowise, ” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Kevin Tynan said of the humble minivan. “Once the number of children equals or surpasses the number of parents, even a large SUV becomes a pain in the neck.”

And children, it turns out, are a larger consideration in car-buying these days. Although birth rates in the U.S. have been declining, the total number of babies has stayed relatively high thanks to overall population growth. The number of newborns in the U.S. peaked in 2007, so right about now, those kids are approaching their 10th birthday. Not only are they going to soccer practice, but many of them have siblings, too.

Because of all those children (and a few grandparents living in the spare bedroom), the number of U.S. households with at least four people is at an all-time high. Throw in a family dog, and even that Escalade begins to look compact. At this point, convenience overwhelms cool—if you’re skeptical, ask a parent wrangling two kids and a stroller in the supermarket parking lot if they care how stylish their ride looks.

Another major force is luring customers back to the minivan, and it’s a really good one: In April, the all-new Chrysler Pacifica coasted into the market on a tide of gushing reviews . “They did an extremely good job with this vehicle, ” said Krebs. “I don't think the segment will ever be what it used to be, but this certainly breathed new life into it."

With hidden door tracks, an athletic stance and a stiffer suspension, the Chrysler Pacifica is winning over SUV fans.

Source: Chrysler

You may have noticed the Pacifica on television being pitched by comedian Jim Gaffigan. In a series of skits, he wryly points out the vehicle’s attributes. There are two sliding doors that can be opened with a wave of the foot (parents loaded down with groceries), two 10-inch screens for passengers to watch TV (keep the kids zoned out), a massive tri-pane sunroof (for looking up at the sky in frustration), and the pièce de résistance, a vacuum integrated into the trunk (Cheerios).

These are the things that sell the car, and Chrysler knows it. “I call it my swagger wagon, ” said Becky Branch, a photographer who recently got her hands on a Pacifica to review for her blog, The Java Mama. In an 11-minute Facebook video, Branch, 35, and her son pan a smartphone camera around the inside of the vehicle, gushing about its tech and appointments. They didn’t bother showing viewers what it looked like on the outside. The content, as the saying goes, was king.

“I never pictured myself as a minivan-type person, ” Branch confessed in an interview. “I feel like people look at you and think, ‘that’s a mom-mobile.’ But, I tell you what, I miss that Pacifica.”

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