The market for sliding passenger doors seems to be fading in the U.S.


As a parent of three active, healthy boys – now teenagers – I can’t imagine not having a minivan to tote them around. (Yes, even to soccer).

When they were toddlers and I had to use a car, I cringed in horror when the doors flew open in parking lots, bashing the vehicles next to us. I coveted the sliding door of the minivan, which took much stress out of my life.

Besides, it’s much easier to pack and unpack groceries, sports paraphernalia and suit cases. Sometimes we even used our minivans to haul loads that probably would be better off in the bed of a pickup.

From my experience, it seemed to me the utility would trump any negative image, and there always would be a niche for minivans.

Yet, it’s hard to ignore the segment’s slow, steady decline that began 18 years ago, shows no signs of stopping and even might be accelerating.

There have been a few stops along the slippery slope. Since segment share peaked at 8.5% in 1995, there have been four years when market penetration was either flat or up just a hair from the prior year. But for all intents and purposes, share has been dropping steadily.

One of the respites came in 2012, when share was flat with the prior year at 3.7%. But the downslide quickly returned and penetration through the first 10 months of 2013 is down nearly a half point from like-2012 to 3.4%. With only two months of the year remaining, minivan share likely will end at its lowest point since 3.1% in 1985.

As sales have declined for the segment over the years, so has the competition. Two big players, Ford and General Motors, left the market long ago. Sales of midsize and large CUVs are filling the gap for them. In fact, CUVs have benefited the most from the decline in minivans, including recent upward spikes in share for luxury versions.

Furthermore, the automakers that remain minivan-strong, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota, are not among the big players in large CUVs or SUVs. In 1995, there were 16 minivan models on sale in the U.S. Now there are six. Of those, only three – Chrysler Town & Country, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna – have sales above year-ago through October. Perhaps more telling is none have a bigger share of the light-vehicle market from year-ago, though Sienna and Town & Country are flat with 2012.

Worse still, except for industry chatter that Sienna might receive a midcycle enhancement next year, no new model or a re-engineering of an existing vehicle is due for at least a couple years, when Chrysler is planning an overhaul to its minivan program.

Odyssey’s next major re-do is in 2016, and Sienna’s next redesign is scheduled for 2018.

Of the segment’s smaller-volume models, the next Nissan Quest is planned for 2016, and the Kia Sedona, which underwent a minor freshening this year, is not slated for a redesign.

With no significant new product coming in the near term, it is likely share will continue to fall next year and the year after – barring some major price discounting.

It appears minivans are dying a slow death. However, once millennials can find jobs and start embarking on family life, maybe sliding passenger doors will make a comeback.

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