Loyal minivan buyers who aren't willing to join the shift to SUVs appear to have found refuge in one of Europe's least glamorous segments: compact cargo vans.
There are positive signs that boxy, multipurpose models such as the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner, which are a staple product with tradespeople and delivery services, are benefiting from the slow death of the minivan, once one of Europe's most popular models.
According to JATO Dynamics, sales of compact vans in Europe rose 2 percent to 224,600 while minivan sales fell 23 percent to 433,000.
The Volkswagen Caddy was the compact van segment leader with 27,892 sales in five months, a gain of 12 percent. The Dacia Dokker was second with the Berlingo rounding out the top three.
“Based on their prices, dimensions and use, I would say that the main threat to minivans is SUVs,” JATO analyst Felipe Munoz said. Although he conceded that compact vans could become an alternative for people looking for the interior versatility that used to be a key selling point for minivans.
PSA Group's recent launches of the Peugeot Partner, the third-generation Berlingo and Opel Combo confirmed that the French-German automaker is happy to welcome former minivan buyers. Especially since Peugeot recently quit two key minivan segments to launch the 3008 and 5008 SUVs instead.
Citroen still has the C4 Spacetourer minivan, but “it is aimed at the higher end" of the minivan segment compared with the Berlingo, said Caroline Damey, who is the product manager for the Berlingo.
The Berlingo offers many of the same driving assistance features as Citroen's new-generation cars. The van also has a smooth, quiet ride and good handling because the front suspension comes from PSA Group's EMP2 car platform. Another strong feature the Berlingo and Rifter share in their top-of-the-line versions is an impressive eight-speed transmission from Japanese supplier Aisin.
A key reason the Caddy leads the segment is because its features are competitive with VW's Touran and Sharan minivans.
Whether compact vans will continue to gain ground depends on customers' willingness to pay up to 30,000-plus euros to stay in a minivan-like model. If they are, it's very likely more competitors will join this sector.