New Minivans Ready To Wow Passengers?

Ford Airstream
Ford Airstream

Carmakers from across the globe have been revealing their latest innovations at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. While soaring energy prices have put some companies to work building hybrids with better fuel economy, others have focused on design to wow potential buyers. CNBC’s Phil LeBeau spoke with Automobile magazine’s Jean Jennings about developing trends in minivans – turning the backseats into a lounge area.

Both companies now offer electric rotating seats in the second row that turn to face the back of the minivan. A table can then be installed between the second and third rows to allow for card playing or eating or whatever else the kids may wish to do. And the operating word there is “kids,” since both LeBeau and Jennings agree that there isn’t enough room for four adults in the back.

The drawback is that owners now lose the cargo space they would have if that second row had “stow-and-go” seats rather than rotating seats.

“I think [the success of these vans] will depend on whether people think it’s cramped or not, and if they feel they’re losing something without the stow-and-go [in the second row],” Jennings says.

But with fuel prices taking a dip this week, will that mean a return to high SUV and truck sales? No, says Jennings.

“I think the fuel-economy issue is here to stay for quite some time,” she says. Jennings thinks that SUV and truck owners who need their vehicles for work might feel some relief with the ease in prices, but American consumers are weary of paying $50 to $70 for a tank of gas.