DaimlerChrysler's decision not to build a Mercedes-Benz minivan was a sensible show of restraint. Instead, D/C will pursue a variation on the minivan theme for Mercedes. It will produce an M-class-based minivan, sport-utility and station wagon hybrid and will leave American-style minivans to the original American minivan company - the former Chrysler.
Targeting niches is a more precise business these days. Carmakers used to mimic each other. When all agreed that minivans were the next big thing in Europe, eight or nine companies crowded in with the same concept - borrowed from the Renault Espace and the Chrysler minivans.
That kind of thing doesn't happen anymore. It is more fun and profitable to identify niches within niches. With flexible platforms, these category killers are developed quickly and cheaply - increasing chances of finding a sweet spot in the market at minimal risk.
Three years ago the sub-supermini segment was a small patch consisting mainly of the Renault Twingo, Fiat Cinquecento and Rover Mini. But the sub-superminis have been scattered in several different directions. The Ford Ka is a segment of its own. So is the VW Lupo. GM's Concept A and the Audi Al2 will further subdivide. And they won't all necessarily compete with one another.
Minivans are another segment-in-progress. A European minivan used to go by the standard American definition - a seven-seater based on an upper-medium platform packaged inside a one-box body.
But the five-seat Renault Megane Scenic changed the rules and the Astra-based Opel Zafira seven-seater and Fiat Multipla (a six-seater) will change them again. When they arrive, the Golf-based compact minivan and Ford's multi-activity vehicle will add their own twists.
DaimlerChrysler is right to seek an alternative route, not just replicate the Voyager and Espace with luxury fittings. No one bothers with me-too products anymore.
And there is no turning back. Once consumers become accustomed to a supermarket of choices, they won't settle for anything less.