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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ready for the return of the minivan?

The other day, my wife and I met some old friends at a coffee shop. One of the young moms mentioned that they were thinking about replacing their Honda Odyssey with a newer minivan. Another mom in the group scoffed: “You’re thinking about another MINIVAN,” as if doing so was akin to infecting oneself with an incurable disease.

The Honda owner did not over-react to the negative response. She just asked, calmly, “Are you still driving the Tahoe?” “Yes,” her counterpart replied. “You live in a suburb,” said the van owner, “when was the last time you actually put that thing into four wheel drive?”

The Tahoe mom went silent. And it occurred to me that I had just witnessed another example of how consumers are gravitating to the authentic, in the aftermath of the Great Recession. It reminded me of a story I saw in the New York Times on just this topic a couple of months ago. Click here to see that story.

Implications: Big SUV’s will still be around years from now. But they are likely to be driven by people who have a demonstrated need for an SUV (because of a sport they are involved with or a utility that requires such a vehicle), rather than being driven by those who simply find it fashionable.

Minivans, at one time, were fashionable, too (when they were new, and the decade after). But eventually, society deemed it the vehicle of stereotypical soccer-moms (“Eeewwww”), and the functional people-haulers of the 80’s and 90’s were replaced buy the more sporty, stylish, SUV. Same soccer-moms, different truck.

In many ways, the Great Recession made people a little more realistic, and content to be who they are. We sought-out the authentic; if you’re a family with small kids, that might mean adding a minivan to your family fleet. Even here in Minnesota where I live, the streets are plowed within hours of every snowstorm. If the minivan or a cross-over can better defend the family against expensive gasoline, fewer might stick with the bulky SUV merely for fashion’s sake.

Did the recession bring your customers down to earth? What are they doing differently now? How has your company, product or service adapted to these changing priorities? How has your marketing responded to this consumer trend?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

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