I feel for President Obama these days. A few days ago, President Barry released his long-form birth certificate, silencing some (but not all) of the
nutters birthers’ criticisms in a bid to move on towards more pressing issues. The dialog surrounding the episode, however, reminded me of another “non-issue” that came up earlier this month, when Obama addressed an assembly of wind farm workers, saying …
I know some of these big guys, they’re all still driving their big SUVs. You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything. You’re one of them? Well, now, here’s my point. If you’re complaining about the price of gas and you’re only getting eight miles a gallon–(laughter)–you may have a big family, but it’s probably not that big. How many you have? Ten kids, you say? Ten kids? (Laughter.) Well, you definitely need a hybrid van then.
… which has inspired some writers to described the comment as a modern equivalent to “let them eat cake“, only to ask the question “Why doesn’t anyone make a hybrid van?”.
Here’s the thing: someone does.
It’s called the Toyota Estima, and it’s been in production since 2001. That’s right: Toyota manufactures a 40 mpg people-hauler with snowbelt-friendly AWD, and it’s been available for a decade.
Here’s a quick video walk-around of the Estima (by Lease Japan) for the unitiated.
The real question, then, shouldn’t be why about Barack Obama would suggest a hybrid van. Instead, the question should be about why we can’t have the Toyota Estima. Back in 2008, when Gas 2.0 editor Nick Chambers wrote about the van, his research and questions led him to the conclusion that “Toyota didn’t think Americans would buy it because it wasn’t a ‘full-sized’ minivan and it didn’t have enough power.”
Before we worry about Toyota being right or wrong about full-sized minivans, I’d like to ask: how, exactly, did the oxymoronic concept of “a full-sized minivan” come to be, in the first place? Surely that is the modern equivelant to “let them eat cake”, right?
I should probably admit, at this point, that I own a minivan. It is a refrigerator-white 2009 Volkswagen Routan, and I love it. When it comes time to trade it in, I’ll probably get another one. However, whenever I pull it next to another minivan – let’s say a second-generation Dodge Caravan – I notice something a bit jarring: my minivan isn’t “mini” at all. Indeed, the 1994 (2nd-generation) seven passenger Dodge Caravan is 178” long, compared to the 202” length of my VW. The Volkswagen is also significantly wider, taller, and faster than that ’94 Caravan could ever hope to be, too … but something doesn’t jive.
That “something”? By Toyota’s logic, the bigger, faster Routan should have sold rings around the smaller, slower Caravan – but that’s just not the case. In fact, sales of the Routan were so slow, that in January 2009, VW of America stopped production of the Routan for the month of February after 29,000 Routans had been shipped to US dealerships. 11,677 units had sold by July 2009. The Dodge, in its day, sold nearly 10x as many of the smaller, slower Caravans – so, where does that leave Toyota?
Poised to bring the Estima (finally!) to US shores, with ad copy that positively shouts: this is the hybrid minivan the President wants you to own! (Alas, America is just going to have to settle for the five-passenger Prius V. – Ed.)
You gotta admit, it’d be great copy for the 4th of July sale.