Millennial car buyers are finally awakening to the wonders of the vehicle form they grew up in: minivans. And minivan makers including Chrysler are leaning into this promising new development.
Sales of minivans had declined seemingly inexorably over the last 20 years, as the current generation of parents rejected a very practical format largely because their parents had toted them around in Dodge Caravans and Honda Odysseys when they were kids. But behold: Minivan sale are up about 12% year to date, per Chrysler, and sales of the brand’s Pacifica model have risen a whopping 26%.
“Despite what some people think about minivans being outdated, there is a rebound in the minivan,” Chrysler CEO Christine Feuell told me. “And it’s not just young families migrating to the segment, but with Covid, we saw an increasing trend in road trips. People couldn’t fly or didn’t want to fly, so they’re buying or renting minivans to enable their family travels.
“Demographically, it’s both young families and older empty-nester couples who are road trippers and may be in the grandparent phase of life, and minivans enable their lifestyles as well.”
There’s little arguing against the overall practicality of minivans compared with any other major category of automobile. They’re fuel-efficient, offer unparalleled space and versatility for cargo, provide unmatched ergonomic ease via ceiling height and rear-hatch lift-over height. And Pacifica, for instance, also recently became available in all-wheel drive, offers 97 separate safety features and was the first minivan available in a hybrid version.
Minivan marketers also appear to be done apologizing for the fact that, unlike many SUVs, minivans aren’t fit to go off-road. “The fact of the matter is, most people aren’t taking their vehicle off-road,” Feuell said. “Off-road capability is just not a requirement for most people. They’re looking for practicality and for a vehicle that brings together and supports the needs of a family on a day-to-day basis.”
Chrysler also is one minivan marketer that has stepped up to another challenge: the perceptual one. Millennials have mainly stubbornly refused to acquiesce to the superior features of a minivan to address the needs of transporting children, but Chrysler has taken on this attitude directly in a series of new online video ads under the rubric #VanLife.
The three spots cleverly demonstrate not only the practicality but also the ease of use of Pacifica, contrasting the experiences of three families with those of couples that have converted regular larger vans into lifestyle vehicles. The idea is to lend a cool factor to minivans that millennials previously just haven’t considered.
So, while the hapless couples who’ve outfitted their conventional vans are slurping out of jars of homemade kombucha and using rubber mallets to pound their rooftop solar panels into position, Pacifica owners are showing off their second-row video screens and built-in vacuum cleaner.
“There are a number of people and communities who up-fit vans and pretty much live in them,” Feuell said. “This spurred our curiosity around the fact that you could do that with Pacifica and you don’t even need custom modifications: It comes the way you need it, fully equipped as in the plug-in hybrid.”
In one of the ads, the dad who owns a Pacifica says, “Our van life is about comfort, not camping,” as the ad shows off the yawning rear-cargo capacity of the vehicle. His partner adds, “You wanna open your door and see nature? Cool. I just want to see my kids not fighting,” as the Pacifica side door opens to two children watching the video screens and what’s available via FireTV.
As the Pacifica pulls away, the couple with the solar-paneled van are videoing the departing minivan, and a child passenger in the Pacifica asks her mom what they’re doing. “They’re influencing, honey,” she says.