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Vans Are Back in Fashion. Thank you, SUVs!

Vans Are Back in Fashion. Thank you, SUVs!

Sales of vans have been up and down over the past decade. However, today they are experiencing a surge in popularity, and, oddly enough, we have SUVs to thank for this.

In the 1980s and 1990s, minivans were basically considered a family vehicle. But as SUVs grew in popularity (and spaciousness), more and more buyers turned to them. "Why be a mom when you can be a cool mom, you know?" the popular US information resource Autoblog.com describes the trend.

Fancy term

In the 90s, the popularity of SUVs skyrocketed on the promise of an active lifestyle. The reason is simple - these cars looked tough and were guaranteed to be fun, says Ed Kim, president and chief analyst of AutoPacific.

The shift accelerated in the 2000s, reducing the number of players in the minivan segment to just a few key ones.

Meanwhile, the term “SUV” became increasingly meaningless as it was started to being used to describe vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

Today, many car manufacturers use the term even in regard to sedans and station wagons, trying to improve their customer appeal.

You don't have to look far for examples. The latest Kia Carnival has succeeded in part because it has a more upright, blocky design than the typical gummy minivan. Another one is the Subaru Outback which remains an extremely popular station wagon in North America, with its impressive ground clearance and ultra-reliable design.

Kia’s sass


The Kia Carnival, launched in 2021, replaced the old Sedona minivan. But at no point during the Carnival's launch did Kia use the words "van" or "minivan," instead calling the Carnival a "multi-purpose vehicle."

Kia didn't stop there, claiming the Carnival filled the "vacant space between SUV and family van" - a niche we never knew existed. The company cheekily advertised the van's "bold and boxy SUV-like design."

Surprisingly, this message reached its target. During 2021, Kia sold 25,155 Carnivals, surpassing the number of Sedonas sold in 2020, 2019, 2018 and 2017.

The design helped make the car stand out, Joseph Choi, Kia product strategy manager for Carnival notes. We took everything that makes this type of vehicle attractive, but we really pushed the envelope when we paid attention to the appearance of the van. As great as it looks today, I'm already thinking about the next iteration of this design.

Woodland Adventures


Following the general trend, Toyota announced a new upgrade of the Sienna - Woodland - in 2021, including a new interior trim that gave the minivan some SUV features. 

The changes were minimal but enough to promote the Woodland differently: a 0.6-inch increase in ground clearance, roof rails with crossbars, a heavy-duty tow hitch, a 120-volt AC outlet to power small camping gear. The van comes standard all-wheel drive, which has been optional on other Sienna models.

In theory, the development of the Woodland edition was a success, but in reality everything turned out differently. When Autoblog tested the car earlier this year, the Woodland didn't justify its relatively high price tag of $47,530 for the 2023 model.

In general, over the past years, automakers have repeatedly tried to blur the line between vans and trucks (the Volkswagen Syncro van, the first generation Mazda MPV, and others being especially noteworthy in this regard). But with varying degrees of success.

A successful cross

The most successful attempts to cross a van and an SUV were made taking into account the increased popularity of overlanding - traveling without an ultimate goal. In the past, #VanLife and other camping communities have purchased full-size vans and converted them into fan barges for their camping trips. And now many car manufacturers are trying to appeal to their needs.

For example, Mercedes introduced the Weekend Camper Concept based on the Metris (later renamed Getaway).

Ford rolled out the Transit Trail last year, a very cool full-size van with real off-road capabilities. The Trail combines the Transit's 310-horsepower twin-turbo V6 with all-wheel drive, a 3.5-inch higher clearance, and 16-inch wheels with 31-inch Goodyear all-terrain rubber. Equipped with the optional towing package, the Trail can tow up to 6,500 pounds (nearly 3 tons).

SUVs will continue to influence vehicle design and driving performance going forward as they remain the most popular vehicle in North America, Kim says. Thanks to this, minivans have a chance, especially if they are electric, which is the future.

Sources: Аutoblog.com, Yahoo autos.

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