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The Chrysler Pacifica, the best-selling minivan in the United States as of 2020 2019 Chrysler Pacifica Touring L, front 7.4.19.jpg
The Chrysler Pacifica, the best-selling minivan in the United States as of 2020

Minivan is a North American car classification for vehicles designed to transport passengers in the rear seating row(s), with reconfigurable seats in two or three rows. The equivalent classification in Europe is the M-segment , more commonly known as an MPV (multi purpose vehicle) or a people carrier / mover. [2] Minivans often have a 'one-box' or 'two-box' body configuration, a higher roof, a flat floor, a sliding door for rear passengers, and high H-point seating.


Compared with a full-size van, minivans are now based on a passenger car platform and have a lower body (to fit inside a typical garage door opening). Some early versions, such as the Ford Aerostar and Chevrolet Astro, utilized a compact pickup truck platform. [3] [4]

The largest size of minivans is also referred to as 'Large MPV' and became popular following the introduction of the 1984 Renault Espace and Dodge Caravan. Typically, these have platforms derived from D-segment passenger cars or compact pickups. Since the 1990s, the smaller Compact MPV and Mini MPV sizes of minivans have also become popular. [5] If the term 'minivan' is used without specifying a size, it usually refers to the largest size (i.e. Large MPV).


The term minivan originated in North America in order to differentiate the smaller passenger vehicles from full-size vans (such as the Ford E-Series, Dodge Ram Van, and Chevrolet Van), which were then simply called 'vans'. [6]

The first known use of the term minivan was in 1959, [7] however it was not until the 1980s that the term became commonly used.


The 1936 Stout Scarab is often regarded as the first minivan. [8] [9] [10] [11] The passenger seats in the Scarab were moveable and could be configured for the passengers to sit around a table in the rear of the cabin. Passengers entered and exited the Scarab via a centrally-mounted door.

The DKW Schnellaster — manufactured from 1949 to 1962— featured front-wheel drive, a transverse engine, flat floor and multi-configurable seating, all of which would later become characteristics of minivans. [12]

In 1950, the Volkswagen Type 2 adapted a bus-shaped body to the chassis of a small passenger car (the Volkswagen Beetle). When Volkswagen introduced a sliding side door to the Type 2 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. [13]

The 1956-1969 Fiat Multipla also had many features in common with modern minivans. The Multipla was based on the chassis of the Fiat 600 and had a rear engine and cab forward layout. [14]

North America

1970s to 1990s

In the late 1970s, Chrysler began a development program to design "a small affordable van that looked and handled more like a car." [15] The result of this program was the first American minivan, the 1984 Plymouth Voyager. [16] The Voyager debuted the minivan design features of front-wheel drive, a flat floor and a sliding door for rear passengers. [17] The badge-engineered Dodge Caravan was also released in for the 1984 model year, and was sold alongside the Voyager. [18] [15]

The term minivan came into use largely in comparison to size to full-size vans; at six feet tall or lower, 1980s minivans were intended to fit inside a typical garage door opening. [19] In 1984, The New York Times described minivans "the hot cars coming out of Detroit," [20] noting that "analysts say the mini-van has created an entirely new market, one that may well overshadow the... station wagon." [20]

In response to the popularity of the Voyager/Caravan, General Motors released the 1985 Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari badge-engineered twins, and Ford released the 1986 Ford Aerostar. These vehicles used a traditional rear-wheel drive layout, unlike the Voyager/Caravan. [19] [21] By the end of the 1980s, demand for minivans as family vehicles had largely superseded full-size station wagons in the United States. [22]

During the 1990s, the minivan segment underwent several major changes. Many models switched to the front-wheel drive layout used by the Voyager/Caravan minivans. For example, Ford replaced the Aerostar with the front-wheel drive Mercury Villager (a rebadged Nissan Quest) for 1993 and the Ford Windstar for 1995. The models also increased in size, as a result of the extended-wheelbase ("Grand") versions of the Voyager and Caravan which were launched in 1987. An increase in luxury features and interior equipment was seen in the Eddie Bauer version of the 1988 Ford Aerostar, the 1990 Chrysler Town & Country, and the 1990 Oldsmobile Silhouette. The third-generation Plymouth Voyager, Dodge Caravan, and Chrysler Town & Country — released for the 1996 model year — were available with an additional sliding door on the driver's side.

2000 to present

The highest selling year for minivans was in 2000, when 1.4 million units were sold. [23] However, in the following years, the increasing popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) began to erode sales of minivans. North American sales of the Volkswagen Transporter (sold as the 'Volkswagen Eurovan') ceased in 2003. Ford exited the segment in 2006, when the Ford Freestar was canceled, Chrysler discontinued its short-wheelbase minivans in 2007 (although long-wheelbase minivans remained in production in the form of the Chrysler RT-platform minivans) and General Motors exited the segment in 2009 with the cancellation of the Chevrolet Uplander. It has been suggested that the lesser popularity of minivans is due to the minivan's image as a vehicle for older, domestically-oriented drivers. [24]

In 2013, sales of the segment reached approximately 500,000 (one-third of its 2000 peak). [23] Despite the declining sales for the segment in the late 2000s, several European brands launched minivans in the North American market. The Volkswagen Routan (a rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan) was sold from 2009-2013. In 2010, Ford began North American sales of the European-built Ford Transit Connect Wagon. North American sales of the Mercedes-Benz Vito (sold as the 'Mercedes-Benz Metris') began in 2016. However, the Nissan Quest and Mazda MPV were both discontinued in 2016.

The five highest selling models in the United States in 2018 were the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Sedona. [25]


Introduced several months after the Chrysler minivans, the 1984 Renault Espace was the first European-developed minivan developed primarily for passenger use (as the Volkswagen Caravelle/Vanagon was a derivative of a commercial van). Beginning development in the 1970s under the European subsidiaries of Chrysler, [26] the Espace was intended as a successor for the Matra Rancho (a primitive CUV), leading to its use of front-hinged doors. While slow-selling at the time of its release, the Espace would go on to become the most successful European-brand minivans. [27]

Initially intending to sell the Espace in the United States, the 1987 sale of AMC to Chrysler canceled plans of Renault doing so. At the end of the 1980s, Chrysler and Ford commenced sales of American-brand minivans in Europe, selling the Chrysler Voyager and Ford Aerostar (with varying degrees of success). Deriving its minivans from American designs, General Motors imported the Oldsmobile Silhouette (branded as the Pontiac Trans Sport), later marketing the American-produced Opel/Vauxhall Sintra.

In the 1990s, several joint ventures produced long-running minivan designs. In 1994, the Sevel Nord-produced Eurovans were introduced, marketed by Citroën, Fiat, Lancia, and Peugeot; two generations were produced through 2014. In contrast to the Espace, the Eurovans were produced with two sliding doors; to increase interior space, the gearshift was relocated to the dashboard and the handbrake was moved. In 1995, Ford of Europe and Volkswagen entered a joint venture, producing the Ford Galaxy, SEAT Alhambra, and Volkswagen Sharan. Adopting a similar configuration as the Espace, the three model lines were launched with front-hinged doors; for 2010, SEAT and Volkswagen introduced a second-generation, adopting sliding doors. Despite high expectations during the 1990s, the full-size MPV market fell short, and some consumers thought of MPVs as being large like vans. Other MPVs on the market at the time include Mitsubishi Space Wagon and Honda Shuttle. Renault set a new "compact MPV" standard with the Renault Scenic in 1996 which became popular. [28]

The five highest selling minivans in Europe in 2018 were the Ford S-Max, SEAT Alhambra, Volkswagen Sharan, Renault Espace, and Ford Galaxy. [29]


Contrasting with compact passenger vans developed from commercial vehicles, Japanese manufacturers commenced the development of minivans starting from compact MPVs in the 1980s. In 1982, the Nissan Prairie became one of the first compact minivans. Derived closely from a compact sedan, the Prairie was configured with sliding doors, folding rear seats, and a lifting rear hatch. The Mitsubishi Chariot (exported to North America as the Colt Vista) adopted nearly the same form factor, using wagon-style front-hinged doors.

In 1989, the Mazda MPV was introduced as the first full-size minivan (derived from the Mazda 929 sedan). Developed primarily for American sales, the MPV exceeded Japanese compact size regulations; it was also sold in Japan and other markets. In line with American minivans, a passenger-side door was used; a hinged door was used (a driver-side door was introduced for 1996).

For 1990, the Toyota Previa mid-engine minivan was introduced (sold as the Estima in Japan). While largely retaining the configuration of Toyota LiteAce predecessor, [30] the Previa was designed solely as a passenger vehicle, with nearly panoramic window glass (excluding the B and D-pillars). Replaced in North America by the locally produced Toyota Sienna, [31] the Previa remains in production for Japanese and Australian markets. In 2002, the larger Toyota Alphard is produced as a luxury vehicle.

Following the introduction of the Nissan Quest (co-developed with Ford for North America), Nissan introduced the Nissan Elgrand in 1997 for worldwide markets; the Nissan Serena has grown into the large MPV segment as well.

Honda has produced its Honda Odyssey line of minivans since 1994; since 1999, a separate (larger) version has been produced for the United States and Canada. Until 2013, the Japan-produced version of the Odyssey was designed with front-hinged doors. In a design feature that was adopted by other manufacturers, the first generation of the Odyssey featured a rear seat that folded flat into the floor. In 1996, Honda produced a mid-sized MPV the Honda Stepwgn, it is designed with a higher cabin, in contrast to the Odyssey version in Japan.

Expanding beyond compact MPVs, Mitsubishi entered the minivan segment in 2003 with the Mitsubishi Grandis, using front-hinged doors. Sold outside of North America, the Grandis was marketed through 2011.

Adapting a similar layout to the Chrysler minivans, the Kia Carnival (also sold the Kia Sedona) was introduced in 1998 with dual sliding doors. Sharing its configuration with the Honda Odyssey, the Hyundai Trajet was sold from 1999 to 2008 in markets outside of North America; the Hyundai Entourage was a rebadged Kia Sedona.

Introduced in 2004, the SsangYong Rodius is the highest-capacity minivan, seating up to 11 passengers.

In 1999, Shanghai GM commenced production of the Buick GL8 minivan, derived from a minivan platform designed by GM in the United States. After two generations of production, the GL8 is the final minivan produced by General Motors or its joint ventures today.

Mini MPV

Ford Transit Courier (2014-present) Ford Tourneo Courier 0283.jpg
Ford Transit Courier (2014-present)

Mini MPV — an abbreviation for Mini Multi-Purpose Vehicle — is a vehicle size class for the smallest size of minivans (MPVs). The Mini MPV size class sits below the compact MPV size class and the vehicles are often built on the platforms of B-segment hatchback models.

Several PSA Peugeot Citroën minivans based on B-segment platforms have been marketed as 'leisure activity vehicles' in Europe. [32] These include the Citroën Berlingo (1996–present).

Examples: Category:Mini MPVs (70)

Compact MPV

Volkswagen Touran (2015-present) 2018 Volkswagen Touran 1.6.jpg
Volkswagen Touran (2015-present)

Compact MPV — an abbreviation for Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle — is a vehicle size class for the middle size of MPVs/minivans. The Compact MPV size class sits between the mini MPV and minivan size classes.

Compact MPVs remain predominantly a European phenomenon, although they are also built and sold in many Latin American and Asian markets. As of 2016, the only compact MPV sold widely in the United States is the Ford C-Max.

Examples: Category:Compact MPVs (114)

Leisure activity vehicle

Matra Rancho, one of the first LAVs Talbot Matra Rancho.jpg
Matra Rancho, one of the first LAVs
Renault Kangoo, a current LAV Renault Kangoo Paris 105 (II, Facelift) - Frontansicht, 10. August 2013, Ratingen.jpg
Renault Kangoo, a current LAV

A leisure activity vehicle (abbreviated LAV) is a small van or minivan; the segment is popularized primarily in Europe. [32] One of the first LAVs was the 1977 Matra Rancho (among the first crossover SUVs and a precursor to the Renault Espace), with European manufacturers expanding the segment in the late 1990s, following the introduction of the Citroen Berlingo and Renault Kangoo.

Leisure activity vehicles are typically derived from supermini or subcompact car platforms, differing from mini MPVs in body design. To maximize interior space, LAVs are taller in height with a vertically-oriented liftgate (or the side-hinged doors of a cargo van); the body typically features a more vertically-oriented windshield and longer hood/bonnet. Marketed as an alternative to sedan-derived small family cars, LAVs have seating with a lower H-point than MPVs or minivans, offering two (or three) rows of seating.

Though sharing underpinnings with superminis, subcompacts, and mini MPVs, the use of an extended wheelbase can make leisure activity vehicles longer than the vehicles they are derived from. For example, the Fiat Doblò is one of the longest LAVs with a total length of 4,255 mm (167.5 in), versus the 4,050 mm (159.4 in) of the Opel Meriva (a mini MPV) and the 4,030 mm (158.7 in) of the Peugeot 206 SW (a supermini).

Examples: Category:Leisure activity vehicles (14)

Related Research Articles

Van Covered transportation vehicle

A van is a type of road vehicle used for transporting goods or people. Depending on the type of van, it can be bigger or smaller than a truck and SUV, and bigger than a common car. There is some varying in the scope of the word across the different English-speaking countries. The smallest vans, microvans, are used for transporting either goods or people in tiny quantities. Mini MPVs, compact MPVs, and MPVs are all small vans usually used for transporting people in small quantities. Larger vans with passenger seats are used for institutional purposes, such as transporting students. Larger vans with only front seats are often used for business purposes, to carry goods and equipment. Specially-equipped vans are used by television stations as mobile studios. Postal services and courier companies use large step vans to deliver packages.

Dodge Caravan Motor vehicle

The Dodge Caravan is a series of minivans that was produced by Chrysler. It was produced from the 1984 to 2020 model years and was offered as both a passenger van and a cargo van. The short-wheelbase Caravan was introduced alongside the Plymouth Voyager in 1983 and was marketed as the Dodge version of the Chrysler minivans. The long-wheelbase Dodge Grand Caravan was offered alongside the Plymouth Grand Voyager as well as the Chrysler Town & Country and in production from 1987 to 2020.

Governments and private organizations have developed car classification schemes that are used for various purposes including regulation, description, and categorization of cars.

Renault Espace Motor vehicle

The Renault Espace is a large luxury crossover MPV vehicle manufactured by Renault for fifth generation. The first three generations of the Espace were amongst the first contemporary minivans or MPVs, and were manufactured by Matra for Renault. The fourth generation, also an MPV, was manufactured by Renault. The Renault Grand Espace is a long wheelbase (LWB) version with increased rear leg room and boot size. The fifth generation is introduced with a crossover SUV-inspired styling while keeping the space-oriented MPV body style. Renault described the fifth generation Espace as a 'crossover-style MPV' which combines elements of saloon, SUV and MPV, while retaining interior space and practicality of the latter.

Rebranding (automobile) Changing badges of the same car

Rebranding in the automotive industry is a form of market segmentation used by automobile manufacturers around the world. To allow for product differentiation without designing or engineering a new model or brand, a manufacturer creates a distinct automobile by applying a new badge or trademark to an existing product line.

Chrysler minivans Motor vehicle platform

The Chrysler minivans are a series of minivans that have been produced and marketed by the American automaker Chrysler. In production since the 1984 model year, Chrysler has produced six distinct generations of minivans; at various stages of their production, Chrysler minivans have been marketed worldwide, primarily in North America and Europe.

Plymouth Voyager Motor vehicle

Plymouth Voyager is a nameplate for a range of vans that were marketed by the Plymouth division of Chrysler. From 1974 to 1983, the Voyager was a full-size van, sold as the counterpart of Dodge Sportsman. For 1984, the Voyager became a Chrysler minivan sold alongside the Dodge Caravan; as a minivan, three generations of the Voyager were sold from 1984 to 2000. Following the closure of the Plymouth division in 2000, the Voyager was marketed under the Chrysler brand, where it was sold through 2003.

Crossover (automobile)

A crossover, crossover SUV, or crossover utility vehicle (CUV) is a type of sport utility vehicle-like vehicle built with unibody frame construction. Crossovers are often based on a platform shared with a passenger car, as opposed to a platform shared with a pickup truck. Because of that, crossovers may also be referred as "car-based SUVs". Compared to truck-based SUVs, they typically have better interior comfort, a more comfortable ride, superior fuel economy, and lower manufacturing costs, but also inferior off-road and towing capability. Forerunners of the modern crossover include the 1977 Matra Rancho and the AMC Eagle introduced in 1979.

Ford Aerostar Motor vehicle

The Ford Aerostar is a range of vans that was manufactured by Ford from the 1986 to the 1997 model years. The first minivan produced by Ford, the model line was marketed against the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari and the first two generations of the Chrysler minivans. Introduced shortly before the Ford Taurus, the Aerostar derived its name from its slope-nosed "one-box" exterior.

Chevrolet Lumina APV Motor vehicle

The Chevrolet Lumina APV is a minivan that was produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors. The first front-wheel drive minivan sold by Chevrolet, the Lumina APV was sold in a single generation from the 1990 to 1996 model years. Marketed alongside the Pontiac Trans Sport and Oldsmobile Silhouette, the Lumina APV competed against the Dodge Grand Caravan/Plymouth Grand Voyager, the extended-length Ford Aerostar, and the Mazda MPV.

Canadian Car of the Year winners, as chosen by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada:

Nissan Quest Motor vehicle

The Nissan Quest is a minivan that was manufactured from 1992 until 2017 by Nissan. The first two generations of the Quest were a joint venture with Ford, which marketed a rebadged variant as the Mercury Villager. The vans debuted at the 1992 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. However, it is still sold in Japan. Each version of the Quest rode a platform derived from that of the Nissan Maxima.

Mini MPV

Mini MPV— an abbreviation for mini multi-purpose vehicle— is a vehicle size class for the smallest size of minivans/MPVs. The mini MPV size class sits below the compact MPV size class and the vehicles are often built on the platforms of B-segment hatchback models. By the European definition, the mini MPV commonly consists of cars with two rows of seats, while in Asia mini MPVs with three rows are common. Sliding doors are sometimes also fitted to mini MPVs. Mini MPV are also called tall-hatchback or small MPV.

Compact MPV Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle

Compact MPV is a vehicle size class for the middle size of MPVs. The Compact MPV size class sits between the mini MPV and large MPV (minivan) size classes.

Car body configurations

The configuration of a car body is typically determined by the layout of the engine, passenger and luggage volumes, which can be shared or separately articulated. A key design feature are the car's roof supporting pillars, described from front to rear of the car as A-pillar, B-pillar, C-pillar or D-Pillar.

Sliding door (car)

A sliding door is a type of door is mounted on or suspended from a track for the door to slide, usually horizontally and outside. It is a feature predominately relegated to minibuses and buses to provide a large entrance or exit for passengers without obstructing the adjacent pathway between the vehicle and any adjoining object or the side(s) of passenger and commercial vans so as to allow a larger unobstructed access to the interior for loading and unloading.


M-segment is the European segments for passenger cars described as "multi purpose vehicles". It covers multi-purpose vehicles, minivans and cargo vans. The minivans often have removable rear seating to provide flexibility for transporting passengers or cargo, while the cargo vans are primarily designed for transporting cargo and therefore do not have rear seats.

The Ford Carousel is a prototype vehicle that was developed by Ford in 1973. A derivative of the third-generation Ford Econoline/Club Wagon, the Carousel explored a number of the concepts that 1980s American-market minivans later put into production, serving as an alternative to both full-size station wagons and passenger vans.

Chrysler minivans (S) Motor vehicle platform

The first-generation Chrysler minivans are a series of minivans produced and marketed by the Chrysler Corporation in North America from 1984 to 1990 and in Europe from 1988 to 1990. Sold in both passenger and cargo configurations, the series is the first of six generations of Chrysler minivans. Launched ahead of chief competitors Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari and Ford Aerostar, the first-generation Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager effectively created the modern minivan segment in North America, with many later North American minivans adopting a similar body configuration.

Chrysler minivans (NS) Motor vehicle

The third-generation Chrysler minivans are a series of passenger minivans that were marketed by the Chrysler Corporation from the 1996 to 2000 model years. Designated the NS platform by Chrysler, these minivans were sold by Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth divisions in passenger configurations; minivans were exported under the Chrysler brand. While the second-generation AS platform was a revision of the original vans, the NS platform marked the first ground-up redesign of the Chrysler vans since their 1984 introduction, ending the use of components from K-Car derivatives.


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