Death to the Minivan

Often described in ‘social death’ terms by the more hyperbolic members of the media, the MPV itself is now fading out before our eyes.

(c) Autoevolution

An oft-spoken cry from the more dogmatic end of the automotive spectrum came closer to coming true yesterday, following Ford’s announcement that production of B-Max, C-Max and Grand C-Max MPVs will cease at its Saarlouis plant in Germany at the end of June.

Of course, nobody is likely to (a) be poleaxed to the spot in shock, or (b) possessed by a frenzy of bathetic fervour at the news, given that sales of what are termed Minivans by our US friends have been in freefall for some time now, as carbuyers increasingly succumb to the image, appearance and down-the-road graphics of crossover CUVs.

According to Carsalesbase.com, sales of mid-sized MPV’s at sector level fell by 20% in 2018, placing them back at levels last seen in 1999. As a consequence of changing customer behaviour, sales of the C-Max and Grand C-Max echoed this trend, falling 21% to 53,080 last year, according to figures supplied by JATO Dynamics; numbers, it seems Ford is no longer prepared to countenance.

Uncle Henry of course is battling not only to turn his loss making European operations around financially, but to maintain a existential European business case. Hence the necessity to take hard-nosed decisions on failing model lines, but it’s nevertheless a blow to carmaking on the European mainland and to the Saarlouis plant in particular – part of a planned jobs cull of 5000 staff across the European business.

Another unreported factor contributing to the Ford models’ demise is of course the encroach of BMW and Mercedes-Benz into the mainstream markets with the 2-Series Active/Gran Tourer and B-Class models, and although these too have suffered falling sales throughout 2018, they must still be regarded as disruptors.

Cannibalisation from within also cannot be discounted. The new Focus, the popularity of which, especially in Estate and high-riding Active form the carmaker makes lavish claims for, may have further hastened the C-Max’s demise.

(c) Parkers

It’s hardly coincidental either that next week, the next-generation Focus-based Kuga crossover is to be officially revealed prior to going on sale later in the year. Autocar suggests that alongside the Valencia-built Kuga, Ford will also reveal a Fiesta-based crossover model, possibly a replacement to the endlessly facelifted and re-engineered Ecosport model, which has done so much to dent Henry’s credibility with customers on both sides of the Atlantic.

All of which fits in with Ford’s US carmaking plans, where new generation Bronco and so-called Baby-Bronco SUVs are currently being prepared, prior to official announcement. Anything you like, as long as its an SUV, being Henry’s newfound offer to the customer.

With the B/C-Max gone, further nails have been hammered into the compact European MPV’s coffinlid. Last year’s decisive winner in this losing game was Renault’s Scenic. Will France remain the final bastion of the format, alongside the ‘prestige’ Germans, or is the end finally nigh? JATO alone will probably have the answer.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

18 thoughts on “Death to the Minivan”

  1. I was surprised by this news, but only because I thought the B-Max had died from neglect a few years ago. I can’t recall the last time I saw a new(ish) B-Max or C-Max around these parts.

    I notice that, on the company’s UK website, Ford cheekily lists the “Active” versions of the Fiesta and Focus as crossovers, alongside the Ecosport, Kuga and Edge. This sets the bar pretty low, comprising black plastic wheelarches and body trim, and an inconsequential rise in ride height. In reality, this is as much (or more) than the vast majority of buyers need to tackle errant trollies and high kerbs in Tesco’s car park.

    I’m off to Halfords to get the bits I need to create the world’s first Boxster crossover…

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Your made-up crossover would be called the Boxtan then if we follow the naming scheme.

    2. Hi NRJ,

      Mmm…Boxtan…I like it!

      Oh, damn…someone’s thought of the idea of a Porsche sports car crossover before me:

  2. As someone who’s ferried a Zafira Tourer (I know, I know) full of girls to a birthday party today, I really regret the decline in MPVs, especially anything with a seven-seat option. My problem is, having gone for seven seats four years ago, it’s going to be harder to find a replacement (especially on my company car list), and having had the flexibility to pile the world, his wife, and their kids in the back it will be a huge mental recalibration to be forced to think in terms of five seats again. I know that there are still seven-seaters around, but all too often they’re now Santa Fe sized SUVs, so unnecessarily bulky and pricy.
    Oh, woe is me, for having children…

    1. If I needed seven seats on a regular basis I’d look for a VW Caravelle or Multivan which have the additional advantage of being able to transport lots of people and their luggage at the same time and not either people or luggage like typical MPVs.

    2. Very true. There’s a functionality deficit left by the extinction of MPVs, and the affordable SUVs don’t fill it.

      I’m guessing that the new Focus-based Kuga will be cheaper than its predecessor, and will finally rise to the Nissan Cashcow’s bait – the formula was a convincing SUV at Focus/Astra prices, and for a while it seemed invincible.

      Another thought: C-segment hatches are becoming taller, SUVs are getting lower – look at the Kona/Stonic. In another model cycle, will they meet in the middle?

    3. As someone who is rapidly approaching a time when I will only need 7 seats instead of 9, I would like to drive (or ride in) a Chrysler Pacifica. But the Citroen Space tourer will do.

    4. Niels – There was no need to completely blank the Rodius from your suggestions, it can hear you and it’s upset.

  3. I wonder if Fords diminished sales in this market are anything to do with the troublesome automated manual or CVT gearboxes they hobbled such models with, if you owned a CVT boxed C-Max and found you had an econimically scrap car on your hands when the box lunched itself not long out of warranty, you would be most unlikely to put yourself into that position again.
    Rather boring looking cars too, the new Zafira is a decent looker in comparison.

    Arn’t Crossovers basically MPV’s made to look chunky aggressive in a faux offroader butch way, usually 2wd but being raised a fraction are less likely to beach themselves offroading onto the kerb outside the paper shop.

    If in the market for this type of vehicle i would rather have a van based vehicle every time, the basic vehicle designed to be thrashed constantly and banged mercilessly over any road surface, as always with these things it’s the gearbox that lets them down, very few options of proper auto boxes until recently, automated manuals are the work of the devil, horrid when maneuvering, hopeless at moving junctions, and unreliable to boot.

    1. I don’t think the C Max ever had a CVT but to answer your question, the littler Fords have certainly had issues in automatic only (or nearly so) markets because their twin clutch gearboxes have been both unreliable and offputting to buyers used to torque converter automatics. For those of us in the mainly manual world, I don’t think it’s much of an issue.
      Oh, and for what it may be worth, I drove a DCT equipped Focus for a week many years ago. It was absolutely fine.

  4. The C-Max is a car for persons with an average age and a bit less than average income and education. I remember a friend of mine was searching a car like the C-Max. After several testdrives, he did not found any real negative point of this car – nice engine, good ride – but the heart was crying No – Don´t buy this boring car !

    The dramatic sales-collapse of the Zafira and the C-Max shows that there is no future for vans with a more conservative look and cabin. Maybe the Citroen Picasso äh Spacetourer still has a place in the market by being different.

    I think the typical former C-Max driver is now driving a Dacia Duster or a Kia Sportage. Or he is still driving the C-Max because a modern and a bit more attractive, but conservative alternative with the same prize tag is lacking. A VW Bus always remains a dream for such people because of its ridiculous prize, the VW Bus is the only VW of the premium segment – a real cash-cow.

    1. C Max up from 2003 had the ZF CF23 CVT box, it was usually found coupled to the 1.6 Diesel of Doom, talk about living dangerously.
      The failure rate of that box was horrendous, long before the engine could start lunching turbochargers.

      I’ve driven Ford’s previous excursions into CVT transmissions, in both Escort and Fiesta form, dire doesn’t begin to cover it, again unreliable as well as horrid to drive.

  5. NRJ, the Rodius was not even on my radar… SanYang is a very marginalized brand here.

  6. Anyone seen camouflaged mule shots of the new Honda Jazz? With every car company running away from anything that remotely looks like a minivan, Honda has moved the base of the Jazz’s windscreen even further forward, added a gargantuan triangular bit glass ahead of the rearview mirrors and made the whole sad little car look like a mini minivan! In this day and age! Good luck in trying to sell this in any great numbers in Europe or the USA.

    https://www.autobild.de/artikel/honda-jazz-2020-erlkoenig-hybrid-elektroviariante-14717547.html

    1. Hi, Johann. Maybe Honda feel that a monobox design is still the way to go on a B-segment car like the Jazz? The original Jazz was enormously roomy for its footprint, in part because of clever siting of the fuel tank and innovative folding action of the rear seats. Perhaps Honda regards it as a Jazz USP? In any event, you have to admire Honda’s independence of thought on design, even if the results are, er, somewhat challenging!

  7. All good suggestions, guys, thank you, though as my need for seven seats happens occasionally but relatively rarely I don’t know if i could cope with the looks or the boomy interior of a Touran or Caravelle. As I am unable to log on to my lease-company’s website maybe my employer is trying to tell me something anyway…

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