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Less is more for blooming micro-van market

The minivan gets no respect.

The minivan gets no respect.

It is the Rodney Dangerfield of vehicles, as in “When I was born I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother.”

Minivans were never cool, even in the eighties and nineties when they ruled the land because baby boomers began to breed like rabbits and needed some wheels to take their offspring to organized activities.

As soon as there were cooler-looking people-mover alternatives — first SUVs, then crossovers — minivan sales tanked. Adding to the slide were baby boomers moving out of their family-raising years.

Many major automakers don’t even offer a minivan anymore (Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, etc.). But a new chapter has just opened for the minivan and it looks exciting. OK, maybe not bungee-jumping exciting — but interesting at least.

They’re calling them micro-vans but they’re not really that “micro.” I guess this is just to signify they are smaller than “regular” minivans. All of them feature three rows of seating, sliding rear doors, and are based on C-segment vehicles, which are compacts like Mazda3, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze.

For a time, Mazda5 was the only micro-van in our market. The Kia Rondo joined the festivities, though its low, low profile didn't add much notoriety to the segment.

But now there is lots of micro-van action.

Not only is there an all-new 2012 Mazda5 coming early in the new year, but also both Ford and Chevrolet will jump into the segment during 2011.

The Ford C-Max will be the first vehicle in this market to offer the automaker’s new 1.6-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, which features both turbocharging and direct injection. Ford suggests an EcoBoost-equipped C-Max will deliver the best highway fuel economy of any seven-seat vehicle in the market.

Chevrolet’s upcoming micro-van, the Orlando, debuts first in Europe then arrives in Canada by summer. The Orlando will not be available in the U.S, which speaks volumes about how GM recognizes our tendency toward practicality and good sense — something Canadians should take pride in.

Micro-vans give you a lot of vehicle for their footprint. They also appeal to a wide demographic — empty nesters, dog owners, active-lifestyle types, families on a budget, and to a growing number of buyers of any stripe who need a bit of room but recognize that one doesn't always have to super-size.

Mazda Canada was in fact, very conscious of not making its new Mazda5 bigger than the last one. “We resisted that temptation, because the concept works beautifully as it is,” says Greg Young, Mazda Canada’s PR director.

Young adds that Mazda welcomes the competition: “For a long while it was just us talking about the merits of a six-passenger compact van, now lots of people will.”

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