Get In the Van: Selling Mini-vans To Gen X


Steve Chapman offers the latest salvo in the seemingly never-ending war over the "meaning" of the mini-van. Lame-o-mobile or Swagger Wagon? You decide (h/t Instapundit):

Sales are up, new models are appearing, and the woman who once did the blog "Rage Against the Minivan" has fallen in love with one. "In marketing campaigns featuring heavy-metal theme songs, rapping parents, secret agents in cat masks, pyrotechnics and even Godzilla, minivan makers are trying to recast the much-ridiculed mom-mobile as something that parents can be proud—or at least unashamed—of driving," reports The New York Times.

This is known as reinventing the wheel. Minivans became popular in the 1980s because they offered so many things—abundant seating, ease of entry for young children, decent fuel economy, and cargo space without excessive bulk. For a generation in its fertile years, they were the solution to every need.

Except one: the perennial urge of many baby boomers to believe they are cool. Our parents knew better than to expect hipness to coexist with diapers and PTA meetings. But the postwar generation is the one advertisers asked, seductively: "Who says you can't have it all?"

Apparently, though, the urge to be awesome has carried over to Generation X. That explains why automakers are trying so hard to convince them that basic, functional transportation is not a fate worse than fiery death.

Toyota is selling the Sienna as a "Swagger Wagon" after hearing consumers lament, "I don't like being the soccer-mom joke or feeling like I've given up all trace of my identity to be a parent," according to marketing manager Richard Bame.

Jesus, if it's that important to you, slap a Circle Jerks sticker on the back. I promise to think you are cool.

I'm on the side of people buying the vehicle that best fits their lifestyle, not trying to impress the folks at the New Yorker. A car is, fundamentally, a tool and you should buy the best one for the job. If you are going to go into the business of having two or more kids, then a mini-van has to be part of the "what sort of car should we buy?" conversation. They do carry a lot of stuff. They do transport everyone comfortably (that's the downfall of many sedans). Turn your back on that and you're turning your back on your family's comfort and convenience. There'll be blowback from that, believe me.

The Free Will brother has long been a mini-van evangelist. Riding in his MV was like being on a freaking plane. Each of his kids had their own captain's chair, their own DVD player (!), and their own TV screen. Kind of put our family driving vacations - when we would go on 7-hour drives to Connecticut in our Mom's Vista Cruiser with little more than a Rubik's Cube for entertainment - into a whole new perspective, that perspective being it sucked even more than we realized at the time. So, yeah, if you need a mini-van, go for it.

Of course, a mini-van fan like Chapman can't talk about his favored wheels without dissing - get ready for it - SUVs. You see, (chortle-chortle) people buy SUVs because they think it makes them look like bad-ass outdoorsmen when really (guffaw) they never see terrain more treacherous than the parking lot at Safeway. Spare me. Remember when I said your car is fundamentally a tool? Well, an SUV can have its uses. I'd much rather tackle a snowbank in an SUV than in anything else, for example. If you are going into the mountains here in California, an SUV is good insurance against getting stuck in some pretty out-of-the-way places. And SUVs can be a riot. I was once on a driving vacation on the Central Coast, where they open some of the beaches to motor vehicles. Let me tell you, my Lexus ES seemed pretty lame right then, especially when I could see Jeeps and Range Rovers heading confidently towards the dunes, the kids in the backseat no doubt cheering as they went.

So, SUVs have a point, which is why Detroit sells so many of them. Why a member of a downtrodden sect like mini-van owners would try to puff himself up with some frankly clich├ęd comments about "stoopid" SUV owners is beyond me. Can't we all get along?

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