A minivan, multi-purpose vehicle (abbreviated MPV), people-carrier, people-mover or multi-utility vehicle (shortened MUV) is a type of automobile similar in shape to a van that is designed for personal use. Minivans are taller than a sedan, hatchback or a station wagon, and are designed for maximum interior room.

The term

The term "minivan" was coined in North America, deriving from the fact that these vehicles were considerably smaller and more streamlined than traditional North American passenger vans, such as the Ford E-Series.

Other terms are used in other English-speaking countries. In Europe and India, "multi-purpose vehicle" (MPV) describes the general vehicle type without reference to its size. These are described with a word before the acronym: a "mini MPV" is derived from a supermini, a "compact MPV" is based on a small family car and a "large MPV" has about the same size as a large family car. In Asia, "multi-utility vehicle" (MUV) has more or less the same meaning as MPV. "People-carrier" and "people mover" describe both large MPVs and minibuses, but not smaller models.



Minivans are usually between 1600 and 1800 mm tall (or between 65 and 70 in), which is around 200 mm (8 in) taller than a sedan, hatchback or a station wagon. The engine is mounted very close to the front edge of the car, and its elements are grouped higher than in other car types to minimize front overhang length. The rear overhang may be both short like a hatchback or long like in station wagons, changing the boot vs seat balance – the first option is more common in smaller minivans and the second in large minivans


Seats are located higher than in lower cars with a higher H-point, giving passengers seat more upright, posture and leaving more room for the legs. Some people find this seating position uncomfortable and prefer lower automobiles, while the disabled, the elderly or people with little flexibility may benefit from the lack of need to "sit down" when entering the car.

Larger minivans usually feature three seat rows, with two or three seats each: 2-3-2, 2-2-3 or 2-3-3 (front to rear) are the most common seating configurations. Smaller minivans tend to have two seat rows, with a traditional 2-3 configuration. There are some exceptions, like the Honda FR-V, Fiat Multipla and Mercedes-Benz R-Class which are six seaters (3-3 in the first two cases and 2-2-2 in the latter).

Many minivans have so-called seating "flexibility", which means that seat benches or individual seats can be relocated, folded, swung and/or removed. This allows more seating capacity or cargo room depending on needs.

Chassis and drivetrain

In contrast to vans, sport utility vehicles (SUV) and many crossover SUVs, most current minivans are front-wheel drive. The main advantage is somewhat better traction than rear-wheel drive vehicles under slippery conditions like rain, snow and ice. This configuration also allows more inner area along the floor, due to the absence of the driveshaft hump. With rear seats removed, the cargo area in large minivans can hold a 4x8 ft sheet of drywall or plywood flat. Four-wheel drive was also introduced to minivans in North America with the Toyota Van Wagon 4WD and the Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro. Full-time all-wheel drive was introduced to North American minivans in the 1990 Ford Aerostar with the E-4WD option.

Most modern minivans feature unibody architecture, which offers superior crashworthiness and a more comfortable ride than a body-on-frame chassis, and is typically lighter. The Chevrolet Astro / GMC Safari was the last body-on-frame rear-wheel drive minivan but is now discontinued,

In the United States, in order to be governed by more lenient safety and emissions regulations, minivans are classified as light trucks. Unlike their European counterparts, manual transmissions have disappeared due to lack of demand; 1995 was the last year for a manual transmission in the Ford Aerostar and Chrysler minivans and GM had discontinued the manual transmission in the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari some time before.


Access to the third row is through the rear side doors; these may open by sliding them or swinging. Early minivans featured one rear side sliding door on the passenger's side, differentiating them from earlier cargo vans which typically had a pair of outward-opening double doors behind the front passenger door. Almost every current minivan features rear doors on both sides; swinging doors are the norm for European and Japanese minivans, while most American models feature sliding doors; with some models featuring power sliding doors.


Minivans can be roughly classified in three or four segments: large, compact, mini and sometimes micro. Models of all segments are present in Europe, the Americas and parts of Asia.

Large minivans are those above 4600 mm (180 in) long. Nearly every minivan sold in the United States belongs to this segment, so they are simply called minivans there. The first European MPV also belonged to this segment, and later similar models were named likewise until smaller models appeared; now these models are called "large MPVs". Examples are the Dodge Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Ford Galaxy and Eurovan.

Compact MPVs have a length of between 4200 mm and 4600 mm (165-180 in). Such models enjoyed some popularity in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s, for example the Mitsubishi Expo and Nissan Axxess. In 1996, the Renault Scénic was released in Europe and its success made mainstream automakers produce them in large quantities, usually based on small family car platforms and with both two and three-row seats. As of 2007, the only compact minivans available in the United States are the Mazda5 and Kia Rondo.

Mini MPVs are under 4100 mm (160 in) long, and were introduced in the early 2000s. These models are based on supermini platforms and have different styles depending on markets: Japanese models are more boxy while Europeans have the bonnet and windshield almost parallel. Examples of mini MPVs are the Opel Meriva, Renault Modus, Fiat Idea, Toyota bB and Nissan Cube.

Tall city cars and kei cars like the Hyundai Atos, Chevrolet Matiz, Chery QQ and Suzuki Wagon R have also been called mini MPVs or "microvans" because of their increased height over traditional hatchbacks. Others believe they are too similar in design with other small cars, so they should be described as the same kind of cars.

Early minivans models may be smaller than modern models, but still fit into the child subsegment; the first-generation Renault Espace introduced in 1984 would be classified nowadays as a compact MPV, but later generations grew in size and the Espace is now considered a large MPV. Indeed, it is expected that the next-generation Espace will be smaller in size than the current model.


Apart from the visionary Stout Scarab (1935), the most important predecessors of minivans were compact vans. In 1950, the Volkswagen Type 2 adapted a bus-shaped body to the compact Volkswagen Beetle. It placed the driver above the front wheels, sitting behind a flat nose, with the engine mounted at the rear. The two hinged side doors were opposite to the driver's side, with none on the driver's side, Fiat built a similar vehicle based on the fiat 600 with the same engine and door layout. Japanese and American manufacturers responded with compact vans since the 1960s. Usually based on front-engined compact cars with a FMR layout, the engine was mounted behind or under the front seat with a flat, vertical nose. Examples include the Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Van, Suzuki Carry, Toyota Hiace and Subaru Sambar. When Volkswagen introduced a sliding side door on their van in 1968, it then had all the features that would later come to define a minivan: compact length, three rows of forward-facing seats, station wagon-style top-hinged tailgate/liftgate, sliding side door, passenger car base.

As the American vehicles such as the Econoline evolved into larger full-sized vans, the term minivan came to use in North America, when Toyota and Chrysler launched their respective smaller minivan products for the 1984 model year. It is interesting that this could be seen as a Detroit response to the "Baby-Boomlet" when the Baby-Boom children were starting to have children. The Toyota Van and Dodge Caravan / Plymouth Voyager featured very different structural designs: the Dodge Caravan / Plymouth Voyager had a FF layout and unibody construction, while the Toyota Van Wagon featured a FMR layout and was built on a body-on-frame chassis. The Chevrolet Astro / GMC Safari and Ford Aerostar / Mercury Vanster were introduced for the 1985 model year with FR layout.

A European minivan design was conceived in the late 1970s by the Rootes Group in partnership with the French automaker Matra (which was also affiliated with Simca, the former French subsidiary of the Chrysler Corporation, sold in 1977 to the PSA Group). The Matra design was originally intended to be sold as a Talbot and be a replacement for the Talbot-Matra Rancho. Early prototypes were designed to use Simca parts and a grille like the Simca 1307. Matra took their idea to Peugeot, who thought it too expensive and risky, so the project was then presented to Renault, becoming the Renault Espace introduced in 1984. The Renault had traditional hinged car doors on both sides. Chrysler had also been developing a minivan based on the Chrysler K platform, releasing the boxy Dodge Caravan / Plymouth Voyager earlier than the Espace, in 1983.

Since no one disputes that the Renault Espace is a minivan, despite its door configuration, this raises the question of whether the 1956 Fiat 600 Multipla was actually the first minivan. Alternatively, the Lloyd LT500/LT600, introduced in 1952 could be considered the first minivan.

Difference between MPV, Minivan and Van

Both minivan and van can have eight or nine seats and therefore be classified as passenger vehicles. Vans usually have a flat front end, with the front passengers set above the engine and front wheels; front passengers in minivans are behind the engine and front wheels, similar to a car. Sometimes the front wheels are under the front door in vans, affecting how you get in and out, but not in minivans.

Minivans by market

North America

The Dodge Caravan was soon competing against the truck-based front-engine, rear drive Chevrolet Astro, GMC Safari (based on a reworked 1st generation S-10 platform), and Ford Aerostar (based on a reworked 1st-generation Ranger platform). Utilizing the "true minivan formula" (transverse-mounted engine, front-wheel drive, uni-body construction and "one-box" design, the Voyager-Caravan twins had better fuel-economy, traction, size, and driving characteristics. Nissan and Mitsubishi also introduced minivans to North America; but like the Toyota Van Wagon, they had poor rear drive traction, had a bouncy ride due to the short wheelbase, and one had to exit the vehicle to walk from the front seats to the back seats.

1989 brought Japan's first attempt at a North American-style minivan, with the Mazda MPV. It was unique for having a swing-out door with roll-down windows, and was the first Japanese minivan with a front engine. It did not have the utility, traction, or cargo room of other minivans.

General Motors introduced the radically styled Chevrolet Lumina APV, Oldsmobile Silhouette, and Pontiac Trans Sport in 1990 to steal sales from Chrysler. These minivans were their first front-wheel drive minivans; built on a reworked version of GM's 1980's A-platform. With composite plastic body panels, an extreme cab-forward nose, steeply raked windshields, deep dashboards and UFO styling, they were, perhaps too futuristic for contemporary American tastes, and commonly derided for looking like a "DustBuster on wheels"; consequently, they never seriously challenged the market leader, nor achieved GM's corporate sales targets.

That same year, Toyota introduced the Previa. It was aerodynamic like the General Motors minivans, but was actually quite different in design. The Toyota Previa had a pancake-shaped, four-cylinder engine located under the floor of the vehicle. This allowed passengers to pass from the front seats to the back without exiting the vehicle. While being the most reliable minivan designated by J.D. Powers & Associates and the first minivan to reach automobile safety standards, the Toyota Previa still did not sell as well as the Chrysler minivans.

Ford and Nissan's attempts at dethroning Chrysler came in 1993 with the front-wheel drive Mercury Villager and Nissan Quest. These minivans were competitive with their car-based chassis' and V6 engines, good handling, and attractive styling. Ford introduced a slightly larger front-wheel drive minivan (based on a reworked version of the 1980s Taurus platform) called the Windstar in 1994.

1995 brought Honda to the minivan game with the Odyssey. The Odyssey was based on the Honda Accord, giving the van more car-like handling than the Chrysler minivans. It had outward opening doors with roll-down middle windows, and was the first minivan to have a rear seat that folded away into the floor.

In 2000, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan duo continued to be the best selling minivans in North America. The second-best selling minivan was the Honda Odyssey, and the third was the Toyota Sienna. According to Autodata, in 2006 Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota comprised 72% of the United States minivan market. General Motors and Ford made up 17%, Kia Sedona and Hyundai Entourage sales made up 5%, and the Nissan Quest was 3%. By 2008, most North American minivans had adopted the size and configuration of the long-wheelbase Chrysler vans, with Chrysler dropping their shorter models as well. In 2008, only the Kia Sedona and Chevrolet Uplander offer both short- and long-wheelbase configurations.


During the 1980s, North American minivans were slow and under-powered when compared with sport utility vehicles, but had more fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines. Such vehicles could also have poor performance, as manual transmissions were rare in minivans, and often had higher rates of problems than larger engines. Some minivans were notorious for having problems with their transaxles, as they are substantially heavier than the sedans their powertrains were originally designed for. With the shift in the 1990s towards heavier, long-wheelbase models and light towing, V6 engines became more common; some automakers dropped their four-cylinder engines from their lineup. The Chevrolet Astro, the last surviving truck-based mid-size van, was popular for towing applications because of its frame and up to 4.3-liter V6, with some owners installing their own V8 engines.


Apart from the Chrysler Minivans, the Renault did not have any direct rival during the 1980s. Other mainstream automakers began to develop multi-purpose vehicles designed with European tastes in mind. PSA Peugeot Citroën and the Fiat Group founded a joint-venture, Sevel, and released in 1994 the eurovan under the nameplates Citroën Evasion, Peugoet 806, Fiat Ulysse and Lancia Zeta. The Ford and the Volkswagen Group JV Auto-Europa similarly co-developed models on a common chassis and built them in a shared-plant in Setúbal, Portugal. The Ford Galaxy (platform code VX-62, and Volkswagen Sharan, and later SEAT Alhambra, became available in 1995 and were almost identical in design with only different front ends, rear ends and dashboards. While the VW/Ford model was relatively large, with a length of 4635 mm, the Espace and the eurovan were around 200 mm shorter and would be considered today as compact MPVs. All of them were available as seven-seaters and the seats could be folded and removed. These models would be later called "large MPVs".

The trend towards compact MPVs began in 1996 with the launch of the Renault Scénic and Opel Zafira. Compact MPVs were cars with tall bodies but based on the chassis and engines of a small family car (in the case of the Scénic, the Renault Mégane). The runaway success of the Scénic saw the car spawn a multitude of similar vehicles, like the Opel Zafira, the Citroën Xsara Picasso, the Volkswagen Touran, the Ford Focus C-Max, and the Nissan Almera Tino. By the mid-2000s, virtually all mainstream automakers in Europe had a compact MPV in their range.

Also in the mid-2000s, automakers began to use MPV-style designs on supermini-based chassis. Examples of mini MPVs them are the Opel Meriva, based on the Corsa, the Renault Modus, derived from the Clio, and the Fiat Idea, derived from the Punto platform.

In 2000, the Auto-Europa triplets (Galaxy, Sharan and Alhambra) were heavily face-lifted. More recently, Auto-Europa was dissolved when Ford left VW and Seat to make its own Galaxy sharing many parts with the Ford S-MAX, another MPV.


European Minivans (MPVs) are generally powered by four-cylinder engines, originally a mix of petrol and diesel units, but with petrol engines becoming increasingly rare as diesels have improved. V6 engines are rare, due to the increased fuel consumption of larger engines being considered unacceptable with high fuel prices.


In the ASEAN nations, China and India, multi-utility vehicles tend to be smaller than North American minivans and European MPVs. Compact MUVs are more popular than models of other sizes.

They also differ in that they need to cope with uneven terrain as opposed to paved highways. Models from local manufacturers are usually based on Japanese designs from Suzuki, Daihatsu and Toyota. Popular models include Toyota Picnic, Toyota Previa, Mazda 8 and Honda StepWGN.

MUVs vary widely in configuration: whilst some MUVs might be replicas of European MPVs (such as the European Ford Fusion) or American-style minivans (like the Toyota Innova), in some cases MUVs are similar to SUVs (such as the Chevrolet Tavera).

Other examples of MUVs are the Maruti Versa, Isuzu Panther, Toyota Avanza, Hindustan Pushpak, Toyota Qualis and Toyota Innova.

Public image

The target market for minivans are families with young children living in suburban areas. In North America, it came at a time when families wanted smaller more fuel-efficient vehicles without the negative stigma of the station wagon.

Minivans are often chosen by large suburban families within the United States, where they are frequently associated with "soccer moms". Perhaps because of these associations, minivans are often seen as dowdy or boring — an ironic repetition of the stigma against station wagons that originally drove the popularity of minivans among Americans.

See also


External links

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