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First Look: Volkswagen Golf Sportsvan

Compact family car concept updates outgoing Golf Plus.

by on Sep.09, 2013

VW's Golf Sportsvan Concept gives a good hint of what's to come with the Golf Plus successor.

It’s going to be a busy week in Frankfurt as automakers from around the world roll out some of their hottest new products to kick off the new model-year. And nobody is going to be busier than the Volkswagen Group which will hold its annual group event Monday night offering attending media a first glimpse at a good dozen of those new offerings – at least one from each of the German maker’s myriad brands.

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Among the more intriguing models will be the Golf Sportsvan concept. Don’t let the show car designation fool you, however, as this is a very, very thinly disguised version of the production people-mover that will soon replace the outgoing Golf Plus.

It’s part of the Volkswagen strategy to flood the market with all manner of body styles filling in every possible niche segment – the Sportsvan set to become the third body variant off the all-new VW Golf that has become a slam dunk in an otherwise struggling European auto market.


Marchionne: Chrysler Will Get Two “People-Movers,” but Only One Minivan

Maker will respond to shifting market with 2015 roll-out.

by on Jan.17, 2013

The Chrysler Town & Country may end its long run in 2014, when one of the maker's two minivans is expected to get a radical makeover.

The company that invented the modern minivan still sees a place for “people carriers” in its line-up, but only one will be the classic soccer mom-mobile, according to Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

The maker currently has two models, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, that will continue in production through at least 2014, but it has been sending mixed signals about whether they will both remain in the line-up going forward as sales continue to tumble, buyers looking for hipper alternatives. Now, it appears, only one will remain, the other brand getting an alternative approach.

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“People grow out of minivans,” Marchionne concluded during a meeting with reporters at the North American International Auto Show. The challenge is to find an alternative that can maintain its appeal – something Chrysler thinks it may have come up with.


Chrysler 700 Concept Tests Minivan Alternatives

Getting people back into people-movers.

by on Jan.11, 2012

The Chrysler 700 concept hints at a radically different approach from the company that invented the modern people-mover.

They’re the vehicles Americans love to hate.  Few automotive products do their job more efficiently than the minivan.  Yet they’re much maligned and have become something that even the most dedicated soccer mom is likely to trade in as soon as the kids are old enough.  So, the once huge minivan market segment has shrunk to near-irrelevance.

Is it ultimately doomed to disappear? Unlike, industry analysts suggest, though few expects sales to recover significantly – at least not without the sort of breakthrough that helped launch the original minivan boom when Chrysler rolled out its first offerings in the mid-1980s.

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The maker, which has suffered an especially sharp decline in recent years, is hoping to find a way to recover its past glory and rolled out an extreme design, dubbed the Chrysler 700, that could point the way to a very different look for the future.


First Look: Volkswagen Bulli Concept

Is this wooly Bulli the reborn VW Microbus?

by on Mar.01, 2011

Return of the Microbus? VW brings the Bulli Concept to the Geneva Motor Show.

If you remember the ‘60s, goes the old joke, you probably weren’t there during the height of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll years.  And if you fondly remember the old Volkswagen Microbus, chances are you didn’t actually own one.

But there are plenty of folks who have been desperately hoping that the German maker will finally bring back the original minivan.  They got some false hope going, back in 2001, when VW rolled out the Microbus Concept, all but promising to put it into production until someone in Wolfsburg  glumly realized it couldn’t come close to meeting today’s much tougher crash standards.

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So, enter the 2011 Volkswagen Bulli Concept.  Call it retro-futuristic, if you wish, but though the look is decidedly more modern – and, we’re betting, more than up to the latest federal requirements – there’s no mistaking its DNA.

The prototype made a semi-official sneak preview Monday night, and will take its formal bow on the Volkswagen stand during the Geneva Motor Show.


First Drive: 2011 Nissan Quest

A serious new entry – and that’s no joke.

by on Dec.13, 2010

Nissan completely redesigns the Quest for 2011.

Minivans just don’t get no respect, as Rodney Dangerfield might have expressed it.  Not only do the people movers take their regular hits from the likes of Letterman and Leno, but they’ve seem demand steadily shrink, in recent years.  Yet, in an auto industry where diminished expectations have become the rule the minivan still musters enough volume – nearly 600,000 units annually – to convince a fair number of manufacturers to keep pumping them out.

Nissan, for one, which will be launching an all-new version of the Quest for 2011, the well-equipped, comfortable, and functional remake set to reach U.S. showrooms right at the beginning of the New Year.

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Coming up with a way to add a little sex appeal to the exterior design of any minivan has been a chore for industry stylists for the better part of three decades.  The problem is that the van’s classic boxy shape is dictated by the vehicle’s functionality.  Complicating matters is the sliding door, which has vexed more than one talented design team.

But with the 2011 Nissan Quest, designers  have given it the old college try.  Head on, they have succeeded in giving the front of the new Quest a distinctive face and an overall appealing shape in front of the A-pillar.

The gash along the side for the sliding door, seemingly a defining minivan characteristic, has been offset with character lines, and the rear hatch — another black hole for traditional minivan design — has been given some distinctive sculpting thanks to a rounded spoiler that serves as an eye-catching detail when when the rear liftgate is raised.  Another notable detail is the wraparound rear window panel.


First Look: 2012 Mazda5

Updating the microvan

by on Nov.22, 2010

Mazda aims to hold its lock on the microvan market with next year's launch of the new 2012 Mazda5.

L.A. Auto Show-goers are getting a first look at Mazda’s next-generation people-move, which is sharing the stage with the Japanese maker’s future Shinari concept vehicle.

With the Shinari providing a longer look at Mazda’s design direction, the Mazda5 gives a more immediate sense of where the maker believes the market is going – and how it plans to keep building on its momentum.  So far this year, noted Jim O’Sullivan, the maker’s senior American executive, Mazda sales have risen 10%, while residual values have also been rising rapidly.

In approaching the development of the all-new 2012 Mazda5, program manager Hideki Matsuoka said he combined the best features from the current model and set out to further evolve it.  The goal was to create a new multi-activity vehicle combining superior environmental performance with a new expression of stylish design.

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“This expresses our goal to build a new family mover for the global market that offers a smart solution to the user’s every need by establishing a balance between diverse functionality and outstanding performance,” said Matsuoka.

Five key values drove the development of the 2012, which is due in showrooms during the first half of next year, including smart and emotional design, easy to use functionality — particularly in the interior — great quality and a refined, dynamic driving performance coupled with excellent fuel economy.


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 Drive: 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class

A new look for the “Grand Sport Tourer.”

by on Jun.25, 2010

A new, more rugged look for the 2011 remake of the Mercedes-Benz R-Class.

What is it about American drivers?  They’ll pay a premium and sacrifice some everyday functionality to get an SUV that looks rugged but likely never sees an off-road trail.  Offer them a wagon, minivan or anything that looks more like a people mover and they go running.

That seems to have been the curse that kept the old Mercedes-Benz R-Class bound to the bottom of the U.S. sales charts.  It was a lavish and well-appointed vehicle that seemed to have a hard time finding a distinct niche and so was largely written off by American motorists – even though it received generally favorable reviews from both the media and those few buyers who actually drove one home.

So, the German maker is giving it one more try, and with the 2011 remake of the Mercedes-Benz R-Class, it’s not making the same mistake.  For one thing, you likely won’t hear the maker’s marketing folk refer to the new model as a “Grand Sport Tourer,” whatever that means, anymore.

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Even more luxurious — and functional — than before, the critical update for the new model-year focuses on front and rear-end styling, giving the roomy people carrier a bit more of a crossover-ute look that should enhance its appeal.


First Look: 2011 Toyota Sienna

Making the minivan cool?

by on Dec.02, 2009

Toyota launches its 3rd-generation Sienna minivan and aims to make gains in a market other brands have abandoned.

Toyota launches its 3rd-generation Sienna minivan and aims to make gains in a market other brands have abandoned, including GM and Ford.

Soccer Mom wagons, rugrat haulers, the minivan may be one of the most functional and efficient forms of transportation on the market, but it just doesn’t get much respect.  Now, Toyota is out to change that with the third generation of its Sienna people mover.

Based on the radical F3R concept that first debuted in Los Angeles two years ago, the 2011 Toyota Sienna doesn’t disguise its purpose, as some manufacturers tried, in years past – recall the unloved Pontiac Montana?  But it’s a cleaner, more stylish vehicle than the classic two-box family hauler, with some nice detailing like the virtually invisible rails for the van’s sliding doors.

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Some question Toyota’s commitment to what they see as a dying segment; other makers, notably Ford and General Motors have pulled out.  But that, insists the Japanese maker, is precisely why it expects to do well.

“While the minivan segment is shrinking, other manufacturers are leaving the segment,” says Bob Carter, general manager of the Toyota division, “and that’s why we see an opportunity.”