Drew Meyer is going mountain biking or kayaking this weekend, but he doesn’t have any concrete plans yet. He doesn’t have to. Since he bought his minivan this year, he’d packed it up for camping and mountain biking in an instant, and has a rack on top for his kayak.
This, after years of making fun of his friends who drove minibuses.
Mr. Meyer, 43, became a convert while renting one for a business trip in February. “I got in and started riding and was pretty sure I was going to buy one eventually,” he says. Before the end of the trip, he had selected a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan and secured funding.
The minivan has long been the fanny pack of cars – functional, clunky. After years of declining sales and discontinued models, the vehicle, like the fanny pack, is making a comeback thanks to drivers like Mr. Meyer.
The air pollution equipment technician has no children at home. It was sold because he could camp in it, he said over the phone from his caravan on his way to a mountain bike ride to Arkansas from his home in Appleton, Wisconsin. “I can carry gear and they are great for road trips, mountain biking, snowboarding, whatever.”
Even Kim Kardashian has appeared with a minivan—a $400,000 Maybach she picked up in March on Discovery+’s “Million Dollar Wheels” TV show. A representative for Ms Kardashian said she was not available for comment.
The average price of new minivans as a category was up 43% nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 from the same quarter in 2017, the largest percentage gain of any vehicle category, reports Edmunds.com, an automotive information site. Prices of the three-year-old Dodge Grand Caravans rose 64% in the quarter from the previous quarter — to just over $25,000 — making them the vehicle in the popular used-car age group that has risen the most in percentage terms.
Toyota says sales of its Sienna — the country’s best-selling minivan in 2021, according to Edmunds — has more than doubled from 2020. Doug Eroh, president of Longo Toyota in El Monte, California, says the dealership has stopped selling it. taking Sienna orders, with a waiting list of 1,500 hopeful buyers who he says will likely take more than a year to meet.
Tammy Carey, the creator of the “Minivan Life” Facebook group and a former barbed victim of friend Mr. Meyer, has seen the group grow from a few hundred members to nearly 2,000 since the start of the pandemic. It has grown into a community where people talk about making fun of their vans and asking for buying advice.
Ms. Carey, 44, who works in risk management at a bank, started her Facebook group in 2018 to understand the joke that she was driving her kids around in a minivan. The mother of three in Appleton plans to keep her 2009 Chrysler Town & Country as an empty nester — for camping, mountain biking, road trips and hauling tools like her snow blower. “I joke with my dad,” she says, “I don’t need a man. I’ve got my minivan.”
A woman recently stopped next to her in her credit union drive-through and asked if she would part with her minivan. She refused.
“I’ve been doing this for about two decades, and it has surprised all of us in this industry that the demand is high,” said Matt Degen, an editor at Kelley Blue Book, which tracks car values. There isn’t one single factor driving growth, he says, but he points to new models that are reinvigorating the category.
The Sienna is now only available as a hybrid, a well-timed move given the rising gas price, he says. and Kia‘s
new Carnival minibus “doesn’t necessarily look like a minivan.”
In fact, Kia is throwing up its minibus by calling it none. It is forbid to refer to the Carnival as a minivan in Kia offices, said Russell Wager, vice president of marketing at Kia America. The company calls it a multi-purpose vehicle or MPV. That, he says, “gave us an opportunity to appeal to a whole range of other audiences that would normally only consider SUVs.”
Philip Palermo, 42, a video producer for a technology news site who lives in Spanaway, Washington, says he and his wife settled on a carnival when they were looking for a comfortable car for their 5-year-old daughter, Amelia, who suffers from the neurodegenerative Batten disease. The Carnival offered the comfort and features they were looking for, such as an automatic sliding door.
He says the vehicle’s appearance was the deciding factor: “It looked more modern and less like a ‘classic’ minivan.”
Kia says it will have sold nearly 25,000 Carnivals in a shorter production cycle in 2021, compared to 13,000 Sedonas, the vehicle’s predecessor, in 2020.
Some buyers are rethinking minivans because SUVs have become too expensive, including Rodney Puplampu and his wife, Trina Dorrah, who live outside of Austin, Texas.
Mr Puplampu, 47, has been a minivan fan since he bought his first car in college, a Toyota Previa, in the 1990s. He realized that the van, a supercharged model, was perfect for donuts and drag racing. He had wanted a different minivan for a long time, partly because of its versatility and because “you are never put aside. Because who attracts minibuses?”
Also, “I can sit in the back of an SUV,” says Mr. Puplampu, a cloud software security engineer who is six feet tall, “but I can’t sit in the back of an SUV.”
The SUVs Mrs. Dorrah wanted became so expensive that he persuaded her to consider a minivan. They agreed on a new Sienna, but after three months of waiting with no car in sight, they bought a 2014 Honda Odyssey in February for $21,000.
Ms. Dorrah, a 44-year-old life coach, considers herself converted and loves that her children have extra space in the back to play while parked. She likes the sliding doors and the option to remove the center seats.
“I still don’t find it appealing, and I wish they could make SUVs with sliding doors,” she says, “but it’s very functional.”
Mr. Puplampu says he is teased by some friends, “but I enjoy it because they are ignorant.”
“They don’t know. They haven’t been converted yet.”
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