(Corrects capacity in first paragraph to 270 soccer balls from
* Ford creates people-mover version of its Transit Connect
* Ford sees passenger van attracting anti-minivan Millenials
* "Soccer-mom" stigma has hurt minivan image, sales
By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT, Nov 13 Ford Motor Co will
showcase this month a seven-passenger vehicle aimed at young
families that features sliding doors and enough interior space
to hold roughly 270 soccer balls.
But do not call it a minivan.
A people-mover version of Ford's Transit Connect commercial
van will be smaller, more fuel efficient and less expensive than
the minivans sold by rivals Toyota Motor Corp and Honda
Motor Co, Ford executives said on Tuesday.
Additionally, its design -- with a high roof and squared-off
rear -- will not trigger the "soccer mom stigma" that dogs
traditional minivans, particularly among the under-30 set who
are beginning to start families, Ford said.
"Many of them grew up in the back of a minivan," Ford's head
of global engineering Hau Thai-Tang said at a media event.
"Historically, different cohort groups tend to reject what
they're familiar with," Thai-Tang added. "We think that's
another reason a product like this would be appealing to them."
Ford has been selling the Transit Connect since 2009 as a
commercial vehicle with about 35,000 in sales a year. A
people-mover version will debut later this month at the Los
Angeles Auto Show and will go on sale by the end of next year.
The van will be built in Valencia, Spain.
U.S. minivan sales peaked in 2000 at just over 1.3 million
and today's sales are about half that. Ford stopped production
of its Freestar minivan in 2007, turning its focus to crossovers
such as the Flex and the Edge and sport-utility vehicles such as
the Escape and the Explorer.
Minivan sales have slowed due to a social view that it
signals the driver has lost his or her individuality after
becoming a parent, analysts and executives say. This distaste is
acute among the younger generation known as the Millenials.
"It's not the growth opportunity it once was," said Ford
marketing manager Tim Stoehr. "The current minivan formula has
not evolved to match customers' changing needs."
Companies have tried to upend this image through styling and
marketing. The dominant player in the minivan market, Chrysler
Group LLC, launched a sportier version of its Dodge Caravan last
year dubbed the "man van" that featured an all-black interior,
wider tires and a stiffer suspension. Caravan sales were up 28
percent through October.
In 2010, Toyota launched a popular ad campaign for its
Sienna centered around a rapping couple running errands in the
suburbs in their "swagger wagon." Sienna sales are up 3 percent
But the minivans on the market do not offer what customers
want in terms of price of fuel economy, Thai-Tang said.
"Toyota, Honda and other minivan manufacturers have left
today's customers behind with inefficient people movers that are
too large and too expensive," he said.
The 2013 Sienna starts around $26,400 while the Odyssey
starts around $28,500. Ford did not provide the Transit
Connect's price, but said it will cost "thousands less" than the
Toyota and Honda minivans.
Ford expects the Transit Connect will get 30 mpg on the
highway. It has more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space and will
be offered in five- and seven-person configurations with the
option of a rear lift-gate or side-hinged cargo doors.
(Reporting By Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)