A minivan (American English), people carrier (British English),, MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) or MUV (multi-utility vehicle) is a vehicle size classification describing a high-roof vehicle with a flexible interior layout. Smaller sizes are mini MPV and compact MPV classifications.
The minivan combines a high-roof, five-door one- or two-box hatchback body configuration with a mid-size platform, engine and mechanicals; car-like handling and fuel economy; unibody construction; front-wheel or all-wheel drive and greater height than sedan or station wagon counterparts. The design offers higher h-point seating, two or three rows of seating, easy passenger and cargo access with sliding wide-opening rear doors and large rear hatch, and a re-configurable interior volume with seats that recline, slide, tumble, fold flat or allow easy removal--enabling users to reprioritize passenger and cargo volumes.
In North America, the term minivan derives from comparison to traditional full-size vans, including the Ford E-Series, Dodge Ram Van, and the Chevrolet Van. Full-size vans derived their underpinnings upon full-size pickup trucks, while the first generation of minivans sold in North America derived from either compact pickup trucks or passenger cars (or both).
Predecessors include the 1936 Stout Scarab, which featured a removable table and second row seats that turn 180 degrees to face the rear. The DKW Schnellaster, manufactured from 1949 to 1962 was one of the first vehicles to feature the characteristics of modern minivans. In 1950, the Volkswagen Type 2 adapted a bus-shaped body to the compact Volkswagen Beetle. When Volkswagen introduced a sliding side door on their van in 1968, it then had the prominent features that would later come to define a minivan: compact length, three rows of forward-facing seats, station wagon-style top-hinged tailgate/liftgate, sliding side door, passenger car base. Fiat built a similar vehicle, the 1956 Multipla based on the Fiat 600 with the same rear engine, cab forward layout.
In 1972, designers at Ford Motor Company developed the Ford Carousel prototype as a variant of the upcoming redesign of the 1975 Ford E-Series. To better fit a van into a typical 7-foot (213 cm) tall American garage door opening, the Carousel was designed with a lower (6-feet tall) roofline and trim similar to a station wagon and a personal luxury car; rather than a cargo carrier, Carousel was intended a family vehicle. The vehicle was never produced, due to the mid-1970s fuel crisis and company financial difficulties. Nearly a decade later, the concept was revisited by designers and produced in somewhat different form as the Ford Aerostar.
In the late 1970s Chrysler began a six-year development program to design "a small affordable van that looked and handled more like a car". The automaker introduced the first American-market minivans in 1983, the front-wheel-drive 1984 Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager.
In 1984, The New York Times described minivans "the hot cars coming out of Detroit," noting that "analysts say the mini-van has created an entirely new market, one that may well overshadow the... station wagon."
In 1987 Chrysler introduced the extended-length ("Grand") minivans. The Chrysler Town & Country debuted in 1990. The term minivan came into widespread use in North America in contrast to full-size vans. The minivan's market share peaked in 2000 with sales of 1.4 million units in US.
Automotive journalist Dan Neil wrote that minivans signal "that the driver is older and spoken for--off the reproductive market, so to speak. In a culture where women spend billions to create the illusion of youth, it's no wonder minivans have been fighting a market headwind" and at the same time summarized his experience driving a 2008 Chrysler Town & Country Limited "as strange and perverse as it may seem--and it does--middle-aged men tooling around in minivans (like me) are damn sexy."
Sales of minivans shrank to about half a million in 2013.
By 2016, a journalist with The New York Times wrote that minivans had become "uncool at any speed."
In 2014, sales of minivans in America increased 6% over 2013. In terms of market share, approximately 94% of the segment's market share comes from sales of the Chrysler minivans, Honda Odyssey, and Toyota Sienna; the best-selling vehicle varies from year to year. The remaining 6% of the segment is shared largely by the Ford Transit Connect, Kia Sedona, Mazda 5 (discontinued after the 2015 model year). and the Mercedes Metris.
In 1979, Volkswagen replaced the long-running Type 2 with the Volkswagen Transporter T3/Caravelle (VW Vanagon in North America). While retaining the rear-engine form factor of the Type 2, the Caravelle was an all-new design. In 1984, the Renault Espace was introduced. Designed and manufactured by Matra, the Espace was a front-wheel drive van with four front-hinged doors. Although slow-selling at first, the Espace would go on to become one of the most successful vans of the segment. Beginning in the late 1980s, American-market minivans (the Chrysler Voyager and Ford Aerostar) were exported to Europe.
During the 1990s, the production of minivans continued, with the extensive use of badge engineering and joint ventures between manufacturers. In 1994, under the Sevel joint venture, Citroën, Peugeot, Fiat and Lancia introduced competitors to the Espace based on a single platform. For 1995, Ford and Volkswagen introduced their own joint venture (leading to the Ford Galaxy, Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra). Imports of American-market minivans continued, with the Chrysler Voyager, limited imports of the Ford Windstar, and the Opel/Vauxhall Sintra produced entirely in the United States alongside its Chevrolet Venture counterpart.
Towards the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, the major European manufactures launched the new compact MPV and mini MPV classes, that represent minivans with significantly smaller dimensions than the larger minivans and in most cases developed on the platforms of compact and supermini cars, respectively.
The first such model was the Renault Mégane Scénic, launched in 1996, that featured design and mechanics largely similar to the Renault Mégane compact car. It was followed by other models, like the Fiat Multipla, in 1998, the Citroën Xsara Picasso, in 1999, based on the Citroën Xsara compact car, the Opel Zafira, also in 1999, and later by the Ford Focus C-Max, in 2003, based on the Ford Focus compact car, the Volkswagen Touran, also in 2003, or the Mercedes-Benz Vaneo, in 2002.
They were replicated by the Japanese and South Korean manufacturers, which also launched their versions of compact MPVs, with Toyota introducing the Corolla Verso, in 1997, based on the Toyota Corolla compact car, followed by Nissan with the Almera Tino, in 2000, based on the Nissan Almera compact car, Mazda, with the Ford Focus C-Max-related Mazda Premacy, in 1999, or Honda, with the FR-V, in 2004, while Mitsubishi had been producing its own version of a compact MPV, the Space Runner, since 1991. In South Korea, Daewoo launched the Daewoo Tacuma, in 2000, while Kia launched the Carens, in 1999.