Toyota new minivans

2018 Toyota Sienna Minivan2018 Toyota Sienna. (Photo: Toyota)

Toyota Motor Corp. will unveil an updated 2018 Sienna minivan packed with new safety features at 2017 New York Auto Show as it works to regain market share in the segment.

The automaker is looking to reverse a slide that has seen Sienna sales plunged almost 25 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with that same period a year earlier.

It is a malaise affecting almost the entire minivan market. Consumers have forsaken the mommy-linked people movers in favor of more stylish crossovers and SUVs. With the exception of the Dodge Caravan, which is the segment leader, every minivan has seen a decline in sales this year.

Automakers have sold 122, 782 minivans this year, a 20 percent drop from the same period last year. Meanwhile, crossover sales have jumped more than 11 percent to almost 1.2 million vehicles, according to Autodata Corp., an industry research firm.

Even the Chrysler Pacifica, which made its debut at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show, is trailing the sales pace of the aging Town & Country it replaced. Last year through March, sales of Town & Country reached 37, 285. This year, the Pacifica has barely cracked 25, 000 sales.

Despite disappointing sales, analysts agree the segment will not completely give way to utility vehicles.

“Consumers continue to flock to crossovers, but for many families with multiple children, nothing beats the utility of a minivan, so the segment will not shrink, ” Patrick Min, a senior analyst for auto price forecasting firm ALG.

“The minivan segment is much smaller than it used to be, but for those buyers that step into that segment, [it] is the right car for their lifestyle, ” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with research firm IHS Markit.

Toyota is hoping the improved Sienna does a standout job of hitting that market. It has lost ground in the segment so far this year, and now accounts for 11.5 percent of all minivan sales, down from 13.2 percent in the first quarter of last year.

While the 2018 Sienna updates may not be enough to muscle a revival of the entire segment, Toyota is banking on new talking points to stay relevant in the face of the competition, Min said.

The new 2018 Sienna joins the company’s other models that are loaded with its TSS-P suite of advanced safety technology. The bundle – which will come standard on all Sienna models – includes pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, lane departure alerts with steering alerts and automatic high beams.

“Sienna’s updates will bring it in line with the safety features that Pacifica and Odyssey are offering, ” said Brinley.

But Toyota is upping the ante in the segment by standardizing the safety suite across all trim levels.

Chrysler added safety features with the introduction of the Pacifica, but only the top two trim levels have the full package of advanced technology like surround view camera, which gives 360-degree views using cameras positioned around the vehicle.

Honda is safety-minded as well, but the base LX model of its new 2018 Odysseys does not come standard with its Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety technology.

Since the Sienna is one of the older minivans in the segment, it needs to grab some of the attention that the New York Auto Show will drum up for new products, she said.

The LE, SE and XLE models will get Entune Audio Plus, which includes the Safety Connect emergency service that is activated with a button or automatically in the event of airbag deployment. Wi-Fi connectivity can serve up to five devices with 4G LTE.

The Entune 3.0 Premium JBL Audio is available on the pricier SE and XLE models and standard on Limited. The Entune package includes Dynamic Navigation for an always-on connection to updates and data. Destination Assist connects the driver to a live operator for help finding addresses. The sound staging and quality is also enhanced for those who enjoy rocking out to a decent track.

Another update for all trims is the addition of five USB ports across all three rows, letting passengers charge multiple devices at one time.


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