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First Drive: 2011 Honda Odyssey Minivan

Number one for good reasons and revised to stay there.

by on Sep.09, 2010

Like all automakers Honda is attempting emotional styling. The real rational story is on the inside.

The success of the minivan was likely the reason for the subsequent irrational success of sport utility vehicles. Minivans screamed “mom-mobiles,” sending the kids raised in them – as well as more fashion conscious suburbanites – into hard riding, gas guzzling trucks to avoid the perceived stigma. Then when “crossovers” appeared, the easier riding, more fuel-efficient van segment took a further hit. Sales dwindled, and mainstream makers such as General Motors and Ford Motor (given their badly outclassed products) abandoned minivans entirely. No surprise then that during the last six years, sales of minivans have plummeted from more than 1.1 million units annually to about 500,000 today.

Minivans are now largely a three, maybe four company contest, depending on your bias. Honda with its Odyssey has led in sales for most of the past decade, averaging 145,000 annually over the last five years, but tracking at 100,000 today in a depressed market. Still, this allows it to retain leadership, but it is down significantly from more than 170,000 Odysseys sold in 2006 and 2007. Chrysler, even though it invented the modern minivan back in the 1980s, lags Honda by roughly 10,000 units a year on its Town&Country and Dodge Caravan models taken separately, although if you add the two together, it leads. Then there are, arguably, the real competitors in many shopper’s minds, the Toyota Sienna, refreshed last year, but still lagging aging Odysseys sales, and the also old Nissan Quest, due to be replaced next year.

Honda is placing a couple of large bets with the 2011 Odyssey, a heavily revised version of  its third generation people hauler that appeared in 2005. I do mean large.

No other current minivan interior comes close for packaging efficiency and versatility.

The new Odyssey is wider and longer than its predecessor, in a calculated effort to take minivan utility even further. To be fair, it is also lower and more efficient in a powerful demonstration of incremental engineering changes compounding into a salubrious effect. Moreover unlike Detroit automaker engineering habits, Honda took weight out in the process.


Nissan Reveals First Pics of 2011 Quest Minivan

It faces tough competition from Honda, Toyota – and Chrysler.

by on Jul.07, 2010

A first look at the 2011 Nissan Quest.

Nissan has taken the wraps off it’s next-generation Quest minivan, showing the automaker plans to take another shot at a segment it has long struggled to find a place in – and which a number of key competitors have already abandoned.

The 2011 Nissan Quest significantly ups the level of style in a segment where functionality is normally the touchstone for designers and engineers.  The maker went on a similar, er, quest, when it launched the last version in 2004.

That was arguably the most stylish offering of its time, but the last-generation Quest was faulted for some fundamental flaws, notably including  a third-row seat that didn’t feature a 60/40 split and thinly padded second-row seats which many found uncomfortable.

Whether the 2011 Nissan Quest will resolve those and other issues related to features, function and comfort remains to be seen.

Quest sales have lagged behind industry leaders notably Chrysler, whose Town & Country and Dodge Caravan models have regained ground since the maker’s 2009 bankruptcy – and which now control nearly half the U.S. minivan market.

Maxi News!

(Click Here for more on Chrysler’s resurgence in the minivan market.)

But the 2011 Nissan Quest will go up against some tough Asian competition, as well.  And both the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna vans will go through complete makeovers for the coming model-year.  Toyota will retain the focus on functionality, while Honda, like Nissan, is hoping that a little more sporty touches to the Odyssey will draw in those who disdain classic soccer-mom shapes.


Chrysler Increasing Its Minivan Lead

But competitors taking aim with new products.

by on Jul.07, 2010

Chrysler's minivans, including the Town & Country, have been regaining market share.

With no domestic competitors to worry about anymore, Chrysler has been firming up its hold on the market segment it created, more than a quarter-century ago; but increasing competition from foreign makers threatens to loosen its grip on the minivan market.

In its early years, Chrysler held nearly 100% of the people mover segment, and even into the 1990s, it regularly outsold all its competitors combined, though that dominance slipped in the new millennium.  But for the first half of 2010 Chrysler is back on top again – overwhelmingly.

“The last year, the question was whether there’d be someone around to service your car,” says Joe Phillippi, chief analyst with AutoTrends Consulting, referring to Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy.  “Once you knew they’d be around, people regained confidence in the brand.”


For the first six months of the year, the maker’s Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan models collectively accounted for 49.1% of the segment.  That’s up nearly 10 full points from the same period a year ago, when Chrysler’s minivan share sank to 39.2%.  And it only bounced to 42.2% for the full year.  But industry analysts warn that the smallest of the Detroit automakers shouldn’t expect to rest on its laurels while it focuses on reviving the rest of its struggling line-up.


First Look: 2011 Honda Odyssey

Improved minivan functionality meets the latest styling quirks.

by on Feb.10, 2010

The never ending quest to call a box something other than it really is, and needs to be.

Honda unveiled a new “concept” vehicle at the Chicago Auto Show today that shows what the fourth generation Honda Odyssey will look like when it reaches the market next fall as a 2011 model.

The “concept”  has gone through a top to bottom redesign that attempts to move the appearance of the vehicle away from the boxy configuration that has defined the segment since the first Chrysler minivan rolled out back in the last century. And this is not the first time, nor is Honda the first company to claim its box isn’t.

“The common feedback that we received from our customers on the current generation Odyssey was that while tops in its class with great functionality, drivability and performance it was still bit too boxy and to generic in appearance – especially in its profile view,” said Catalin Matei, the head designer on the project.

“With the styling embodied in the concept, we are presenting a dramatically more distinctive and dynamic Odyssey, separating it from other minivans and giving it more personality,” he claimed.

“The new Odyssey is marked by an aerodynamic, cab-forward body with a tapered rear cabin, directional character lines and an athletic stance,” Matei said.

This translates we think, once you get past the styling babble, to a slightly lower height, wider body, better wheel-to-body proportions, pronounced shoulders and wheel flares.

Three child seats- lord help the parents - can now fit in the second row.

Matai also said the next Odyssey will include a second row that can now handle three child seats.

The fuel economy also has been improved so the new Odyssey with a V6 will get 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 miles per gallon on the highway. The current numbers for a V6-equipped Odyssey are 17 city and 25 mpg on the highway.

Currently in its third generation, the Odyssey has been America’s best-selling minivan since 2008 with calendar-year sales of 135,493 and 100,133 for 2009.

Odyssey is produced  in Alabama by Honda Manufacturing of Alabama (using domestic and globally sourced parts).

Both the concept and production vehicles, along with all development of the 2011 Odyssey, are being performed at Honda R&D Americas in Torrance, California, and Raymond, Ohio.