Thursday, September 18, 2003

No More GM Minivans -- GM has announced that they are changing the names of their Chevrolet and Pontiac minivans from Venture and Montana to Uplander and Montana SV6. Apparently, Venture and Montana without the SV6 are just too closely aligned with the minivan as mom-mobile.

First, GM's got neither enough minivan sales or so-called mindshare to have too close an association with its products and the category. Caravan and Odyssey are names that connote minivan. Downshift ventures that there are not 100 people among potential buyers who even remember what GM's minivans are named. Second, if the Montana name is really a problem, uh, is adding SV6 going to make any difference? Third, Uplander? We can imagine the conversation a couple's going to have. Uplander? Say, isn't that the Toyota SUV? I've heard it's pretty good. Let's go check one out.

But the truly bold move? According to GM, the replacements for the old minivans aren't going to be minivans. They'll have sliding doors. They'll be tall, in fact even taller. (Taller? What the center of gravity wasn't high enough already?) But they'll be crossover sport vans.

If some company wants to break the Dodge/Honda stranglehold on the minivan market here's how to do it. Get over the fact that a minivan is a minivan is a minivan. Approach the minivan the way BMW, and subsequently Porsche and Infiniti, did the SUV. Take a seemingly dynamically challenged vehicle. Goose the motor. Massage the suspension. Give it big tires. Change the way people view the category. A 540i wagon will outperform and outhaul an X5, but nobody's confusing the X5 with an Explorer.

Another time, Downshift will explain why no one should be ashamed of minivans.