But for those households choosing a minivan, it still comes down to comfort, convenience and lots of high-end entertainment -- even in these frugal times. Whether it has a power sliding door and liftgate, stowable seating, dual moon roofs, or backup camera, each new minivan seems to set a another benchmark.
For the first time, the average transaction price for a new minivan has passed the $30,000 mark this year to reach $30,430, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Demand for the Chrysler Town & Country, one of the segment's most richly appointed minivans, is up 35 percent this year.
Honda Motor Co. didn't invent the minivan, but it has quietly exploited the American family's desire for the plush minivan while Kia and Dodge battle for the thrifty buyer.
Some 70 percent of Odyssey's purchased in the United States today are well-equipped with heated leather seats and other fine amenities. In the Honda family, only the Pilot comes remotely close to selling leather seats like that. Chrysler says 34 percent of Town & Country minivans are sold with leather seating.
Even with all those cowhide captain's chairs rolling down the freeway, Honda says a high-level premium model has been missing in the minivan segment for a while.
So it has reached higher with the redesigned 2011 Odyssey.
The new Touring Elite model will be the most luxurious Honda minivan ever. In addition to a long list of goodies -- 6-speed automatic, acoustic wind shield, ambient foot-well lighting, parking sensors and more -- the Odyssey 'Elite' is furnished with a 650-watt premium surround sound audio system with 12 -- yes, 12 – speakers; a 16.2-inch VGA ultrawide rear display with available split screens; HDMI input; auto leveling HID headlights; and 2 auxiliary inputs.
Honda said today it will sticker for $43,250, plus another $780 for destination charges. That's well north of the average transaction price of $30,234 for a mid-sized van sold in July and August, according to J.D. Power. And when you add dealer extras like a roof rack and splash guards, it's within range of the average transaction price of $47,428 for a mid-sized premium CUV such as the Mercedes-Benz R class.
Honda expects the Touring model to represent 17 percent of Odyssey sales, and the Touring Elite version to account for another 5 percent of demand. That's a sweet chunk of business for a model line expected to generate annual U.S. sales of 110,000 units or more.
Can the $50,000 minivan be right around the corner?