Honda and Nissan Unveil Mini-Minivans for Japanese Market – Should They Be Sold Here?

By Jacob Brown | June 17, 2011
In the same week, Honda rolled out its 2012 Fit Shuttle, a lengthened five-passenger carryall version of its small hatchback and Nissan released the Lafesta Highway Star minivan in Japan, a clone of the three-row, six-passenger Mazda5.
Sized and priced well below U.S. market Grand Caravans, Quests, and Odysseys, these mini-minivans stand in the footprints of compacts, yet they still devour cargo with ease. While an SUV or crossover might accomplish the same feat, matching the Fit Shuttle Hybrid’s 59 mpg in Japanese testing should prove more difficult. Neither the Fit Shuttle nor the Lafesta Highway Star are scheduled to go on sale in North America despite the fact that the standard Fit and Mazda5 are already sold here and relatively little cost would be needed to bring the new vehicles here.
We have had compact minivans on our shores before all the way back to the 1980s and early 1990s with the Nissan Axxess, Mitsubishi Expo, and the Fit Shuttle’s direct ancestor, the Civic Wagovan. More recently, we saw the Kia Rondo move into the marketplace and move out just as quickly. The last of these mini movers still sold in the U.S., the Mazda5, recorded May 2011 as its best sales month since 2008, but that number totaled just 1628 vans.
Either customers continue to have a negative image of minivans or it’s possible automakers aren’t willing to invest enough to market the vehicles properly. Toyota will soon sell its larger Prius V in the U.S., but it will come here without the third row of seats available elsewhere. Likewise, Ford is bringing over its C-Max, but it’s leaving out the seven-passenger Grand C-Max initially intended for North America. All C-Max vans sold in the States will have plug-in or hybrid powertrains without the option of a standalone internal combustion engine. Toyota and Ford are interested in selling small people movers, but neither appear ready to do more than test the waters at this point. Are those automakers justified in being hesitant? Is the mini-minivan simply a bit player in the U.S., or should more automakers like Nissan and Honda bring over vehicles like the Fit Shuttle and Lafesta Highway Star to the U.S.? What do you think? Source: Nissan, Honda