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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.