Just back from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, an industry show where one gets the latest interpretation of where American tastes are headed. There are new production cars that will soon show up in dealerships, as well as the "concepts" that foretell a company's thinking about a new vehicle it hopes to build. One of my favorites from this show was a Ford vehicle called the Fairlane. It has three rows of seats and would perhaps serve in the role of a minivan for families or couples with active weekend lifestyles (antique hunting and trips to the country house). Nissan, too, has a similar non-minivan idea, the Infiniti Kurazo. Like Ford, Nissan has never put a real minivan contender on the street, struggling now with its second version of the Quest. Both concepts are updates on the old classic Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
The word around auto circles is that fewer and fewer people will want minivans in the coming years. It seems those kids who grew up riding in the backseat want no part of them when they have their own kids. What cracks me up about Ford is how this company--this icon of family transportation--has never been able to get the minivan right. It has had the Ford Windstar, and now the Freestar. It had the Mercury Villager and now the Mercury Monterey. None of the Ford minivans ever broke into the top three preferred minvans in any ranking I have ever seen. Chrysler successfully reinterpreted the Volkswagen Microbus as the Dodge Caravan, and Honda followed up with an Odyssey minivan that tops most rankings and Toyota has scored a bulls-eye with its third try at a minivan in the latest Sienna. "Minivan" certainly isn't a dirty word to those companies. Just to Ford, who could never get it right.