Multi utility vehicle (MUV) or multi-purpose vehicle (MPV)

Multi utility vehicle (MUV) or multi-purpose vehicle (MPV)

Minivan, minibus, people carrier, multi utility vehicle (MUV), or multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) is a type of vehicle which has a body that resembles a van, but which has rear side doors, rear side windows, and interior fittings to accommodate passengers similar to a station wagon. Minivans are higher than normal sedans, compacts and station wagons, and are designed for maximum interior room; minivans often feature three seat rows and can seat 7 people or more.

The very first "minivan" was known as the Brubaker Box. This was a custom car designed in 1972 and produced in limited numbers by Curtis Brukbaker, a designer and car enthusiast. It was built on the Volkswagen Beetle chassis and included an original fiberglass body. There was a sliding door on the passenger-side of the vehicle.

The first commercial venture by a major auto manufacture was developed by Volkswagen in about 1950 with the Volkswagen Type 2 "minibus" and variants. This vehicle provided the inspiration for the Brubaker Box, but was much larger than a true "minivan." The VW Type 2 had a rear engine and rear-wheel drive. VW currently makes a modern variant with a front engine and front-wheel drive which is very similar to the vehicles discussed below. In 1952 the Lloyd Motoren Werke, Bremen (a brand of the Borgward Group) introduced their Lloyd LT , that was, in retrospect, even closer to the minivan of nowadays.

US automakers countered with compact vans, which were coincidentally sized similarly, and based on compact cars. They had flat noses and either engines mounted between and behind the front seat such as the Dodge A100, Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Van, or similarly aircooled in the rear in the Chevrolet Corvair. These would evolve into more powerful full-sized vans based on full-sized pickup trucks. While these were marketed with limited success as family fans, such as the Plymouth Voyager, they had poor gas mileage, high floors, and inflexible bolted-to-the-floor bench seating.

The modern revision design was developed simultaneously in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Chrysler UK/Matra (launched by Renault as the Espace) and the Chrysler Corporation. Minivan is the more usual term in North American English whilst the other terms predominate elsewhere in the English speaking world. In India, however, the acronym used is MUV, in line with a similar acronym, SUV. In German, the word "Minivan" is only used for compact MPVs like the Renault Scénic.


Minivans were launched to the market almost simultaneously by Chrysler (Dodge Caravan) in late 1983 and by Renault (Renault Espace) in 1984. Though these two cars were developed almost entirely separately, they can each trace their roots back to the same point: the minivan design was originally conceived in the late-1970's by Chrysler UK in partnership with the French manufacturer Matra (who were also affiliated with Simca, the former French subsidiary of the Chrysler Corporation, who were sold in 1977 to the PSA Group (Peugeot-Citroën). The Chrysler-UK/Matra design was originally intended to be sold as a Talbot, and to be a replacement for the Talbot-Matra-Simca Rancho station wagon. Early prototypes were designed to use Simca parts, and hence featured a grille reminiscent of the Simca 1307. However, after acquiring all of Chrysler's European assets, PSA decided the design was too expensive and risky to put into production, and Matra took their idea to Renault, who agreed (PSA finally ventured into the minivan sector 11 years later with the Citroën Evasion/Peugeot 806). The Matra concept became the Renault Espace. However, Chrysler, under whom Matra had originally conceived the Espace, had also been developing the minivan concept themselves based on the Chrysler K platform. They released the boxy Dodge Caravan a year earlier than the Espace in 1983. The term "minivan" derived from the fact that cars such as the Dodge Caravan were considerably smaller than traditional North American passenger vans such as the Ford E-Series. In some parts of Europe, the term "People Mover" has been used for this class of vehicle.

The target market for the minivan were families living in suburban areas. This vehicle was a cross between the station wagon and the large work vans that people would customize for passenger travel. In North America, it came at a time when families wanted a different vehicle that didn't have the stigma of the station wagon era of their parents, and also wanted better fuel economy than that of the previously popular V8-powered station wagons/vans.

The minivan also offered another change from the large van or the station wagon: front-wheel drive, usually found only on smaller automobiles. This made for easier assembly of the vehicle, and allowed for more cargo/passenger area along the floor with the absence of the drive shaft hump. Minivans typically have removable seats and with the seats removed, the cargo area in the larger minivans can hold a 4'x8' sheet of drywall or plywood flat. Though originally offered in a short wheelbase closer in size to the original Volkswagen bus, a longer version was soon made available. The market has since evolved from a variety of sizes and planforms so by 2006 that the 200.6 inch long Dodge Grand Caravan and long wheelbase Chrysler Town and Country is by far the biggest seller compared to the 189.1 inch versions. Every other North American competitor except the Mazda MPV, which is unchanged in size Europe and Asia, has adopted the front wheel drive layout and long wheelbase size factor.


In the USA, in order for the style of minivan to circumvent the 1980s emission standards, minivans had to be classified as light trucks. Every van since the VW Bus had swinging or sliding doors only on the passenger side. The 1996 Dodge Caravan broke this tradition by introducing a sliding driver's side door, later replicated by all competitors. The Odyssey was the first with a third row that folded into the floor. The Mazda MPV introduced roll-down 2nd row windows, later adopted by Honda and Toyota. Chrysler would innovate again with the "stow and go" 2nd row seats which fold into the loading floor. Honda, Toyota & all the other popular minivan manufacturers are all starting to have power sliding doors by default in all models.


In the 1980s, four-cylinder engines were common for fuel efficiency, but often had higher rates of problems than larger engines. Before the development of 150 hp+ four-cylinder engines, such vehicles could also be sluggish as manual transmissions were rare in minivans. With the shift towards heavier long-wheelbase models, and light towing, V6 engines have become more common, or even standard. Some minivans were notorious for having problems with their transaxles, as they are substantially heavier than the sedans their powertrains were originally designed for. The Chevrolet Astro, the last surviving truck-based mid-size van originally marketed as a minvan, was popular for towing applications because of its truck-based frame and up to 4.3 L V6, with some owners installing their own V8 engines.

Current models

Minivans in the North American market

Modern minivans are now very similar to station wagons except they have a higher profile. Also, their hood is shorter, as they have more vertical room. Current models have two sliding doors, or normal doors if they are compact minivans. All minivans sold in North America have sliding doors, with the exception of the first-generation Mazda MPV, Honda Odyssey and Isuzu Oasis, along with the Mercedes-Benz R-Class, which is considered by many to be a minivan, though the company markets it as a sports tourer.

In the North America, Ford and GM countered Chrysler's K-car based minvans with the truck-based front-engine, rear drive Chevrolet Astro and Ford Aerostar. Both were to switch to the front wheel drive configuration by the 1990s. The radically styled Chevrolet Lumina APV and Pontiac Trans Sport were more popular as diecast replicas by Hot Wheels, Majorette and Micro Machines than by minivan buyers. GM replaced them with relatively narrow vans with optional 8 passenger seating (offered by Honda and Toyota by 2005) with a platform common to European models to lukewarm reviews. Minivans in the 90s were typically the best selling models at Dodge and Chrysler dealers.

Nationally, the Chrysler designs continue to be the best selling models, though Honda and Toyota models sell best in states where imports are popular, such as Washington. According to Autodata in 2006, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota together own 72 percent of US minvan sales. "Quest improved but sill not best" USA Today September 26, 2006 4B. General Motors and Ford make up 17 percent, but Ford intends to exit after 2007. Kia sells 5 percent, the updated Nissan Quest just 3 percent.

Honda's original 1996 Odyssey was really a tall car with a 3rd row of seating. It was one of the few Hondas ever to be judged inferior to a Dodge by Consumer Reports. After it was sized to match the Caravan/T&C, it was a big sales success. Toyota would also switch from the mid-engine Previa to a short, and later Caravan-sized front-wheel drive Camry-based layout, the Sienna. The Nissan Quest / Mercury Villager would also prove too short to last against the Chrysler duo. Nissan switched to a controversial design even longer than the Chryslers, while the Monterey was a rebadged Ford Freestar. Mazda would introduce the even smaller Mazda 3 based Mazda 5. It would choose not to market the MPV's follow-on Mazda 8 in North America, though its ottoman seating and turbo-4 will likely do well elsewhere as the MPV broke the million sales mark worldwide in 2006. Marketplace evolution would drive the wide variety of sizes and designs towards a convergence to Chrysler's original concept by the end of 2006, and stories abounded about Pontiac, Ford, and Nissan planning to exit the now crowded and mature minvan market.

Ironically, only Chrysler and Mazda continue to offer the original short wheelbase body, and the latter will soon exit the US market. Chrysler's PT Cruiser is technically a small van for EPA classification purposes, but is sold as and against other compact wagons.

Today, many minivan manufacturers, including Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler also offer their minivans as cargo vans rather than passenger vans. These cargo vans are usually available only through fleet sales.

Minivans in the European market

The trend for compact MPVs began in Europe in the late 1990s with the launch of the Renault Scénic. Compact MPVs were usually cars with tall bodies but based on the chassis and engines of a small family car (in the case of the Scénic, the Renault Mégane). The runaway success of the Scénic saw the car spawn a multitude of similar vehicles, like the General Motors Zafira, the Citroën Xsara Picasso, the Volkswagen Touran, the Ford Focus C-Max, the SEAT Altea/Toledo and the Nissan Almera Tino. By the mid-2000s, virtually all mainstream automakers in Europe had a compact MPV in their range. Such models enjoyed some popularity in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s (for example, the Mitsubishi Expo (Mitsubishi Chariot in other markets) and Nissan Axxess. For 2006, the lone compact minivan available in the United States is the Mazda5.

Also in the mid-2000s, manufacturers began to use MPV-style designs on supermini-based chassis (called mini MPVs), with the idea that leisure activity vehicles would be changed for mini MPVs due to better styling, comfort and building quality. Examples of them are the Opel Meriva, based on the Corsa, the Renault Modus, derived from the Clio, and the Fiat Idea, derived from the Punto chassis.

Large MPVs are not as popular as compact MPVs, but are expected to sell better in the future after the release of newer models with less boxy styling and lower roof. An example is the 2006 Ford Galaxy and S-MAX, the latter of which is only 1.60 m tall and has a sporty looking.

Minivans in the Asian market

In the ASEAN nations and India, because of the wide geography of the region, MUVs tend to be smaller cars that can cope with uneven terrain. Among these MUVs are the Chevrolet Tavera/Isuzu Panther, Ford Fusion, Hindustan Pushpak and Toyota Qualis (replaced by the Toyota Innova).

Public image and future

Minivans have a mixed image. They have a reputation for poor maneuverability and performance in comparison with other types of vehicles. However, they are also the vehicle of choice for large suburban families in the United States, where they are frequently associated with "soccer moms". Perhaps because of these associations, minivans are often seen as dowdy or boring — an ironic repetition of the stigma against station wagons that originally drove the popularity of minivans among Americans.

SUV or Wagon

Many buyers prefer the rugged, go-anywhere image of SUVs or the sporty, upscale image of European station wagons like the BMW 3 Series or the Volvo V70 provide. The Ford Freestyle 3-row wagon fits between SUVs and minvans.

Minivans are built with a unibody for light weight, and equipped with a V6 typically designed for a car. A 1996 Caravan was rated for towing a pop-up camping trailer only with one driver and no other payload, and the hitch is often low enough to drag on ramps even when lightly loaded. A full sized SUV such as the Chevrolet Suburban or Ford Expedition is built with a Body-on-frame construction which can better handle heavy loads through a hitch and a truck-based V8 which can better handle the stress of towing a camping trailer with slide-outs or boat.

Some crossover SUVs and minivans are becoming closer together regarding design and styling. The Pontiac Aztek and Buick Rendezvous "SUVs" even shared the same platform as GMs front-wheel drive minivans. The Chrysler Pacifica and Chevrolet Equinox can be described as sporty-looking all wheel drive minivans or as un-offroader-ish crossover SUVs; the Mercedes-Benz R-Class has a mininvan shape with rounder edges, and features all wheel drive. The Ford Edge, Chevrolet HHR and Chrysler Pacifica give a sight of the future of these vehicles in North America, while the SEAT Altea, Fiat Croma and Ford S-MAX do the same for the European MPVs.

In the ASEAN nations and India, MUVs vary widely in configuration. Whilst some MUVs might be carbon-copys of MPVs in Europe (such as the European Ford Fusion) or even minivan-looking (like the Toyota Innova), in some cases MUVs are similar to minibuses (such as the Chevrolet Tavera and the Maruti Versa).

Multi utility vehicle (MUV) or multi-purpose vehicle (MPV)


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