With a baby on the way, Amit Patel recently had a choice to make when shopping for a new vehicle for his growing family.
Minivan or SUV?
After considering the Toyota Sienna minivan, the 31-year-old Boston-area tax consultant and his wife determined “an SUV would fit our needs.”
They bought a Nissan Rogue hybrid to go along with their other SUV, the three-row Acura MDX. The Rogue had plentiful space, good gas mileage and strong security features, Patel said.
“We really didn’t need a minivan,” he said. He also worried about the stigma that some people still associate with the body style.
“Minivans have always had the stigma of the soccer mom image even though they’re incredibly practical,” said Michelle Krebs, analyst at car-buying site Autotrader.
Just like Patel, more Americans are saying no to minivans, once considered synonymous with suburban family life, even as the vehicle celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. In fact, Fiat Chrysler – whose Chrysler division is known for inventing the minivan – could soon kill off one of the segment’s best-known models.
Tips to stop robocalls: How do they have my number? 5 ways to avoid being put on robocall lists
Farming crisis? Low prices, floods and trade wars plague American farmers, putting their survival at risk
Minivan sales as a percentage of the entire U.S. auto industry fell from 4% in 2009 to 2.6% in the first quarter of 2019, according to research and data firm IHS Markit.
The primary factor hurting minivan sales is the nation’s love affair with SUVs and crossovers, which have soared in number, giving shoppers a bevy of alternatives to the sliding-door minivan.
George Augustaitis, director of industry and economic analytics at CarGurus, said the nation’s declining birth rate and a movement toward city life have also contributed to the decline of minivans.
“It’s slightly easier to get around in an SUV, and if you only have one kid and you’re 28, 29, 30, the SUV is going to provide everything you need,” he said.
SUVs now account for about 50% of U.S. vehicle sales, up from about 31% in 2009, according to Edmunds and IHS Markit, respectively.
3-row SUVs proliferate
The shift in tastes has spurred more automakers to add SUVs to their lineups while shrinking their minivan offerings.
For years, there were only a few three-row SUVs on the market – largely from the Detroit Three automakers. But now, foreign automakers are suddenly introducing hulking SUVs that present a viable alternative to minivans.
Recent three-row SUV introductions include the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride and Volkswagen Atlas. Toyota revealed at redesigned Highlander SUV at the New York Auto Show in April, and the Honda Pilot has been soaring in popularity.
“Manufacturers are pouring resources into design and development” of SUVs but not minivans, said Tom Libby, auto analyst at IHS Markit.
Minivan nameplates disappear
About a dozen minivans have been discontinued in the last decade and a half, including most recently the Nissan Quest following the 2017 model year. Minivans like the Chevrolet Uplander, Buick Terraza, Mazda 5 and Pontiac Montana are long gone.
There are only five left still in production: the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan. But Fiat Chrysler is expected to discontinue the Caravan sometime in the coming years.
That doesn’t mean minivans will perish altogether at any point in the immediate future. Fiat Chrysler, for example, sold 151,927 Grand Caravans in 2018, although analysts say the vehicle is largely sold to fleet buyers, not consumers. And the automaker’s Chrysler Pacifica, introduced in 2017, has impressed reviewers with its design and technology, including hybrid and plug-in hybrid options.
Analysts say the minivan could even be poised for a resurgence one day as the world gravitates toward self-driving cars and Americans give up vehicle ownership.
“When it comes to moving people and things, minivans remain a top choice to get the job done,” Fiat Chrysler said in an emailed response to questions. “As the original utility vehicle, minivans offer up an amazing blend of functionality, efficiency and comfort.”
Surviving minivans on shaky ground
Still, Fiat Chrysler confirmed that the Grand Caravan “will eventually go away,” but the timing has not been determined.
Other automakers say they’re sticking by their minivans:
• Toyota spokesman Scott Vazin said the automaker still has “long-term plans to invest, refresh and renew the Sienna.”
• Honda spokeswoman Jessica Pawl said the Odyssey “remains an important part of our lineup.”
• Kia spokesman James Bill said the Sedona “is an important vehicle for Kia markets around the world, including the U.S.”
Eric Lyman, chief industry analyst for ALG, a subsidiary of car-buying research site TrueCar, said the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna have performed the best among retail customers, though they ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, among all minivans 2018 total sales.
“The idea of reliability and durability and product quality is paramount to the purchase – and Toyota and Honda have wrapped up that perception,” said Lyman.
One “consequence from all these utilities instead of minivans is a lot more door dings in the parking lots of Walmarts and malls across America as kids hastily enter and exit the vehicle” of SUVs, Lyman said.
Lyman owns a minivan and remains a fan of the body style but acknowledged that he’s increasingly the exception.
“The minivan is a functional vehicle and they certainly have become more stylish, but there is a limit to what you can do from a styling perspective of a minivan – and does the target demographic really care about some of the nuance in that styling?” he said.
With sales consideration plunging, according to Autotrader, the future of the minivan may be following a similar course as other vehicles that ended up in the auto industry’s junkyard.
“When I looked at the sales and looked at the (market) share drop, it reminded me of the compact pickup segment,” CarGurus analyst Augustaitis said.
No automakers sell compact pickups in the U.S. anymore.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.