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Toyota Pulls Wraps Off New Sienna

Automaker opts for online unveiling.

by on Jul.17, 2014

Working with three social media-savvy parents, Toyota launched its 2015 Sienna minivan on the internet.

It isn’t a good time for minivan fans. Two decades ago, they were the hippest things on wheels, just about every maker racing into the segment with new products loaded up with the hottest new features, whether juicebox holders, stowaway seats or rear entertainment systems. But with demand sliding, a growing number of makers are pulling out or trimming their minivan lines, Chrysler soon set to abandon the Dodge Grand Caravan model.

But don’t count Toyota out of the market. Quite the contrary, the maker revealing an updated version of the popular Sienna mom-mobile that introduces an intercom system so parents won’t have to scream at the kids battling in the back seats.

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In what might be a telling move, rather than reveal the 2015 Toyota Sienna at an auto show or some other traditional event, the Japanese maker pulled the wraps off digitally, with an online unveiling that showed off its potential, the maker explained, “through the eyes of three creative, social media-savvy parents. In a series of custom videos, these parents bring to life the everyday and sometimes unexpected adventures possible in and around the Sienna.” (more…)

Toyota Recalling 700,000 Sienna Minivans

Shifter problem can cause vehicle rollaways.

by on Sep.26, 2013

One of the Sienna minivans covered by the third major Toyota recall this month.

Toyota will recall 694,000 older Sienna minvans due to a problem with the shift lever that could result in unexpected rollaways.

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The problem involves Toyota Siennas produced at the maker’s plant in Indiana and sold from model-years 2004 to 2005 and from 2007 to 2009.  The vast majority of the vehicles – 615,000 in all – were sold in the United States. Another 56,000 went to Canada, with a small number also sold in Mexico, Germany and Guatemala.

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Chrysler Testing Waters for Next Minivan

Four concepts but only one model, one brand will likely survive.

by on Dec.17, 2012

Chrysler tested the waters for a more radical minivan alternative with the 700C concept unveiled at last year's Detroit Auto Show.

Chrysler is testing the waters to see which of four minivan concepts will best resonate with consumers – a critical challenge if the maker hopes to retain its lead in a segment it invented 30 years ago but which has come under increasing assault from foreign-owned brands like Toyota and Honda.

The Detroit maker has seen its lead steadily erode in recent years and has been forced to sharply reduce production capacity and the number of individual minivan models it offers. Likely only one will survive the shoot-out in the design competition, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press.

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“We know not all of them will see the light of day, but we spend a lot of time studying scenarios, trying out designs that could work in each scenario so we’re ready whichever way it goes,” said Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s design director.

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Ford Back in the Minivan Game with New Transit Connect Wagon

But new 7-seater is 1st in segment to top 30 mpg.

by on Nov.13, 2012

Ford will offer a minivan of the updated Transit Connect in 5- and 7-passenger configurations.

Ford has had a troubled history when it comes to minivans – first rejecting the design that instead became Chrysler’s industry game-changing Voyager and Caravan models, then fielding a fleet of me-too designs that never caught on with consumers.

Now, after being out of the segment for a half-decade Ford is making its return with a 7-passenger version of its European van dubbed the Transit Connect Wagon. It will provide a more traditional, van-like alternative to Ford’s bigger “people-mover,” the Flex.

“Transit Connect Wagon gives young families and people on the go the fun-to-drive and efficient vehicle they’ve been looking for,” said Mark Fields, recently named Ford’s new Chief Operating Officer and the outgoing Ford President of the Americas. “It’s an all-new, smaller seven-seater that has better mileage than larger vans and creates a segment of its own. Customers also will love the unique combination of style, adaptability and affordability this wagon brings.”

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The Transit Connect has been offered in the U.S. market for several years but until now, the focus has been on commercial and fleet users, rather than on retail buyers. The personal use market becomes a major target as Ford rolls out an all-new update of the Transit Connect previewed several months ago at a company-wide product event in Amsterdam.  European buyers have had the option of buying a van-like Transit Connect called the Tourneo.

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Just 21 of 98 Vehicles Pass Child Safety Seats Test

Seven flunk entirely, warns new report.

by on Apr.12, 2012

Despite a decade-old federal mandate, a new study says it's still extremely difficult to accurately install a child safety seat in most vehicles.

The news is not good for parents who have counted on child safety seats to keep the kids out of harm’s way in the event of an accident.  Despite toughened federal standards and industry efforts, only 21 of 98 vehicles met the requirements for ease of use, and seven of the latest vehicles failed entirely in a new series of tests.

That’s a surprise considering it’s been a decade since federal regulators first mandated the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH system.  The rule, which went into effect with the 2003 model-year, required manufacturers to simplify the process and make it easier for parents to be sure a safety seat is properly installed.

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But despite that, “Installing a child restraint isn’t always as simple as a couple of clicks and you’re done,” warned Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the IIHS, which conducted the new test in cooperation with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, or UMTRI.

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Typo Triggers Toyota Recall

Misprint will impact 200,000 minivans.

by on Dec.06, 2011

Toyota recalls 200,000 Sienna minivans.

It’s been a tough couple years for Toyota, the maker being slammed by safety issues as well as production shortages caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March.

But just as the maker was hoping to get things back to normal — with factories pouring out the product and Toyota’s latest line-up landing on the top of the quality charts – it seems the maker will have to recall yet another 200,000 vehicles.

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But the latest problem is the result of a typo rather than a specific defect with the 2011 and 2012 Toyota Sienna minivan line, reports the Detroit News.

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First Drive: Honda Odyssey

The driver's minivan still offers a sublime driving experience.

by on Feb.17, 2011

The 2011 Honda Odyssey features an interesting "lightning bolt" design that improves the view for third-row passengers

The minivan wars are on. All of the major players are either making major updates to their boxes or introducing completely new models. The timing could be a good right to push minivans. With the possibility of rising fuel prices on the horizon, many car buyers will be looking for better efficiency. But they still need the space to carry a junior hockey team, not to mention their gear. They still need to be able to fold down the seats and help a teenager move up to college. They still need to bring home a new couch.

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Love them or hate them, minivans offer the most space for the least money with the best fuel mileage and handling of any vehicle type on the planet. Period. (more…)

Opinion: Can C-Max Succeed Where Other Ford Minivans Have Failed?

Domestic maker struggled for alternative in segment increasingly dominated by imports.

by on Dec.20, 2010

Coming to America - under the Ford C-Max nameplate, the European version of this "people mover" carries a Grand C-Max badge.

More than a quarter-century after Chrysler launched the first truly mainstream minivan, Ford Motor Co. remains a company in search of its own alternative.

It’s not that Ford hasn’t tried; far from it.  It has tried repeatedly to crack a segment of the market that once generated sales of well over one million vehicles annually – most notably with the long-running Windstar.  The first time out of the box, Ford boasted that its approach offered 99 advantages over Chrysler’s competing entries, which then included such models as the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan.  But buyers would have nothing of it.

Time and again, Ford fell short, finally abandoning the classic minivan segment after the abortive Freestar fell flat.

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If you can’t dominate an existing market segment, automakers have come to believe, the best approach is to create a new segment of your own – which Ford tried, two years ago, with the introduction of the Flex “people mover.”  Flex is a solid and impressive vehicle, all the more so after you spend some time behind  the wheel.  But its long, boxy shape and the lack of sliding doors – a minivan staple – have hurt it in the market, where Flex continues to lag far behind the two current Chrysler minivan offerings, as well as the various Japanese competitors that have increasingly gained strength over the years.

But Ford will be back, even if the company does continue to stick with the term, people mover, rather than minivan, for the 2012 C-Max that it formally unveiled in Europe, earlier this year – and which will get its first American showing at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show.

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First Look: Nissan’s Fourth-Generation Quest

Japanese makers aim for dominance.

by on Nov.18, 2010

With the launch of the 2011 Nissan Quest, the maker says reports of the minivan's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Who says the minivan market is dying?  Not the small band of makers that are rolling out all-new or significantly updated offerings for the 2011 model-year, a list that includes not just segment leader – and creator – Chrysler, but Honda, with the ’11 Odyssey, and Toyota, with the new Sienna.

Now Nissan weighs in, bringing to the L.A. Auto Show its fourth-generation Quest.  As it has with earlier generations, the Japanese maker is pushing the proverbial envelope on styling.  But where past versions often put form above function, there’s no denying the utilitarian bona fides of the new Quest minivan.

“The minivan remains a symbol of family commitment,” says Carlos Tavares, Nissan’s CEO for its Americas operation.

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That means several features will rise above all else when it comes to purchase considerations.  Start with easy access, like push-button sliding doors and easy fold-down 2nd and 3rd-row seats.  And with an intriguing new folding mechanism, Nissan was able to deliver a flat load floor, a slightly lower vehicle ride height – and some additional storage space in the tub below the folded-away seats.

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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.

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