Last week, Nicole Wakelin wrote a piece on those devastating crash tests the IIHS performed on minivans, including the particularly bad one featuring the Nissan Quest. I edited the story and came across a line in it that bothered me. It turned into a lengthy bit of research trying to figure out exactly what the IIHS is talking about.
The line that Nicole wrote was this:
“This is a particularly difficult kind of crash for a minivan to manage because it’s made on the same frame as a car, but with a wider body. This puts a lot more of the vehicle outside of that protective frame and makes it a greater challenge to protect any occupants, especially those up front.”
Really? Minivans have utilized exclusively unibody construction since the body-0n-frame Chevrolet Astro went away in 2005, and most of them haven’t shared much with cars since that time.
So I sent Nicole a note and she responded, “This is really weird because I wrote that based on what the guy in the video actually says. Color me confused.”
I went back and watched the video again, and to my surprise, that’s exactly what David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer said about minivan construction. “…they’re typically built on car frames, but they’re wider and heavier.”
Which isn’t really true, and hasn’t been true for a long, long time.
It is true that the Dodge Caravan was built on a lightly modified version of the K-car platform Chrysler introduced in 1983. The S Platform, as it was called, provided the basic chassis for all Chrysler Corporation minivans in the first generation, from 1984 to 1990.
A further modified version of the S Platform — called the AS Platform — was the basis for the second generation Chrysler minivans, sold between 1991 and 1995.
That’s where the platform really started to bifurcate between cars and minivans for Chrysler. Chrysler’s full size cars were built on the LH platform, and the minivans moved to the NS platform. They had little to do with one another. Different variations of that platform existed through 2006.
At that point, Chrysler’s full size cars switched to rear- or all-wheel drive. The minivan was exclusively front-wheel drive, and it was built off of the all-new RT platform, an exclusive minivan chassis.
It’s kind of similar at Honda. The first generation (1994 to 1998) and second generation (1999 to 2004) were built on the Accord platform, but the Odyssey underwent a complete redesign in 2005, and from then on, it’s been based on what Honda calls its “Global Light Truck Platform,” which is also what’s underneath the Honda Pilot, the Acura MDX and the Honda Ridgeline.
If you think about platform sharing and the Accord, think about it going in the other direction. The Accord actually shares something with the Global Light Truck Platform, notably Honda’s “ACE Body Structure,” the steel cage designed to move crash energy away from occupants. The Odyssey was the first Honda vehicle to be marketed that way in 2005, and the Accord wouldn’t follow suit until its eighth-generation redesign in 2008.
The really interesting story is the Nissan Quest, and it would’ve made a lot more sense for the IIHS to fully explain it:
Up until 2003, Ford and Nissan entered a joint venture to produce the Nissan Quest and Mercury Villager, which were essentially the same vehicle. They shared virtually nothing with any Ford or Nissan product. It wasn’t until the third generation arrived in 2003 that Nissan built its own minivans from whole cloth. At this time, the Quest did share its platform with the Nissan Altima and Maxima.
The fourth generation Quest arrived in 2010, and this is when the plot thickens. It is, in fact, built on the Nissan D Platform, which the Altima and Maxima are based upon, but it really shares its architecture with a Japanese home market minivan called the Nissan Elgrand.
When you see the Elgrand, it’s unmistakably Japanese. It’s very tall, and very narrow, but it’s one of the biggest Japanese vehicles produced. As such, it’s popular with celebrities and loaded with equipment the way a Cadillac Escalade would be here.
The kicker is that it’s 4.8 inches narrower than the North American market Quest. It was built that way specifically to avoid the tall, skinny look of the Japanese home-market Elgrand. As the video suggests, the design put 2.5 inches of sheet metal outside of the crash-absorbing structure behind the front bumper, and it caused the Nissan Quest to be “one of the worst-performing vehicles we’ve ever seen,” said Zuby in the video.
So where’s the Kia Sedona in all this? “The manufacturer has told IIHS it plans to make a change to the vehicle in the coming weeks to improve small overlap protection, so it will be tested shortly,” reads the IIHS website. The IIHS only introduced the Small Overlap Front Crash Test in 2012, just two years after the Quest underwent its complete redesign.
The bad news for Nissan, is that it’s like that nightmare where you show up for an exam for which you realize you haven’t studied. The good news is that nobody buys the Quest, anyway. Sales have fallen precipitously from a record high of 2,596 in March of 2012 to a dismally low 483 this past November, according to GoodCarBadCar.net.