Like the old models when they first bowed, GM's all-new minivans are causing a stir in the industry. The futuristic, ultra-aerodynamic styling of the first plastic-bodied GM minivans earned critical nicknames, but others fell in love with the Trans Sport concept when it was unveiled at the 1986 Detroit Auto Show.
"The market wasn't ready for it," says David E. Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, of the original. "You can be criticized for being not leading-edge enough and too leading-edge. There's a fine balance there." The overly spacious dash area and its lack of adequate power (a common complaint of early minivans) added to the criticisms.
Almost a decade later, as the first redesign of GM's minivans roll toward dealer showrooms, analysts say the new Chevrolet Venture, Trans Sport and Silhouette should make a dent in the North American U.S. segment.
John Bakarich, a director in Coopers Lybrand's Automotive Consulting Group, says GM has "a very good opportunity to blow the European market wide open," because the Opel Sintra version of the product is very tailored to its market and it is supported with a very strong dealer network. Mr. Bakarich likens it to the introduction of Chrysler's first minivan in the U.S.
Competitors insist GM's sales will come out of the other guy's share.
Thomas T. Stallkamp, general manager of Chrysler's pace-setting minivan operations, deadpans: "It's a pretty good copy of our old one. It's very nice, but it's more of a utilitarian vehicle. It may be great for Europe, but small for the U.S."
He adds that the GM minivan's numerous seating options may be an advantage, but they don't roll out like ours. And the single engine offering 3.4L V-6 in the U.S. "is not going to help them."
A Ford Motor Co. spokesman says the GM van's four doors will more likely draw sales from Chrysler than Windstar, which is adding a wider driver's door while waiting for a second sliding door.
Mr. Cole says he expects the new GM offering to do "pretty good" because it's less of a fringe product than the current minivan. "The typical minivan customer is into functionality and less prone to risktaking in terms of styling," he states. "I expect they'll sell the capacity (about 240,000) of the plant."
Mr. Cole adds that GM's ability to spread production costs over two continents will help its bottom line. He says it's easier to keep a plant at capacity when supplying products to more than one national market.