Dodge, Toyota in tight race for minivan sales title

Toyota has sold 91,955 Siennas so far this year in the United States -- a close second to the Dodge Grand Caravan. Photo credit: Toyota
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

DETROIT -- The battle for minivan supremacy is turning into a horse race.

The Toyota Sienna may win its first sales title in the segment.

At the end of the year, win, place and show likely will be determined by parts availability, end-of-year consumer deals and possibly a fleet transaction. Through the end of October a mere 975 vehicles separated first and second place.

Here are the numbers:

Through October, the Dodge Grand Caravan was first, recording 92,930 sales. Running a very close second was the Sienna with 91,955.

In third place was the Honda Odyssey with 86,436 units. A distant fourth was the Chrysler Town & Country, 78,255.

Here are the factors that could determine this year's minivan sales champion.

n Parts availability: Honda and Toyota have said that the March earthquake and tsunami reduced production capacity -- and that includes minivans. Toyota adds that the flooding in Thailand is affecting current Sienna production.

Unclear is what components Toyota might be able to switch, say from the Camry or other models to the Sienna, if the Toyota entry has a shot at the minivan sales title.

n Deal of the month: My guess is that if the Grand Caravan and Sienna are running neck and neck as they approach the finish line, one or both will come up with a sweet retail deal. Again, that's assuming Toyota comes up with the parts for a sales battle to the end.

n Fleet business: Dodge, Chrysler and Toyota sell minivans to fleets. Toyota says that 12 percent of its Sienna units land in fleets. Chrysler and Dodge won't release fleet numbers.

Could a last-minute fleet deal be worked out this month for delivery in December benefiting Dodge or Toyota? Anything is possible.

Honda says it doesn't do fleet sales. But there is nothing to prevent a dealer from selling to fleets.

In the end, it's all about bragging rights, isn't it? If Toyota can pull it off, it would be the first time the Sienna was the No. 1 selling minivan. It makes good ad copy for any automaker.

If Toyota is within spitting distance of No. 1, expect the automaker to do whatever it takes to capture the top sales spot for 2011.

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