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Auto Marketers Turn Up The Cool Factor of Minivans

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Meg Hemphill is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle writer who covers the good life: style, food, automotive, travel and entertainment. When it comes to cars, it is less about the nuts and bolts and more about the aesthetic, luxury and occasional practicality. A former editor at InStyle, she writes for the Huffington Post and a variety of other publications.

Watch the “Turncoat” commercial for Dodge Grand Caravan, which has the feel of a Bond/Bourne/Mission Impossible-esque spy movie–and you’ll quickly notice it isn’t targeting the stereotypical minivan driver. That’s because the minivan of 2011 is not the minivan of 1989.

Through advertising and marketing, car companies are revamping the image of the minivan, attempting to expand the appeal past the prototypical mom-mobile. “We still love our soccer moms,” notes Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham, who points out that vans are usually a choice of necessity, not of emotion. “Minivans tend to be a more rational purchase, but we don’t think you should give up style.” That’s why both their Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country now feature dual DVD players, WiFi, an aerodynamic exterior and stow-and-go seating.

Likewise, Honda Odyssey has developed an ad campaign to reach “the next generation of young families,” says spokesman Chris Martin. “Since many potential customers are reluctant to drive a minivan because of styling and image, the Odyssey is a great choice for cool/hip parents who don’t want to give up style in their search for utility.” And Toyota, with its rapping parents and its Sienna (a.k.a. Swagger Wagon) has revamped the minivan with five models, featuring various options like panorama cameras and lounge seating. Apparently it’s appealing since Sienna sales rose 18 percent in 2010 from the previous year.

It’s only natural that the minivan should evolve to this level. When the first Dodge minivan hit the market in 1983, it was about having a sliding door that could get kids in and out easily. In the ‘90s, it evolved with advanced safety features and Honda debuted the dual power sliding doors in 1999.

The minivans of today have retained those features and built on them, so that performance and style mix in with the practicality of getting Tommy, Susie, Fido and eight grocery bags out of the back with ease. So while the minivan probably isn’t the new Ferrari, it’s certainly come a long way, appealing to a wider demographic than ever before thanks to its luxury options and better performance.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.