If you're worried about the effect of fossil fuels on the environment and need to carry several passengers, a hybrid minivan may seem like the perfect solution. Unfortunately, none of the major automakers produce hybrid minivans for sale to consumers in the United States or Canada. However, market factors may require automakers to begin offering hybrid vans. In the meantime, if you have your heart set on this type of vehicle, you may be able to get an electric motor conversion for an existing minivan or purchase a hybrid from a country where they are sold.
No Hybrid Minivans for Sale Domestically...Yet
Although automakers have been expanding their offerings when it comes to hybrid vehicles, none of the major car manufacturers have produced a hybrid minivan to sell to U.S. or Canadian car buyers. That may be about to change, however. Several factors indicate that it's only a matter of time before carmakers begin to offer vans that fill this important market niche:
- Minivans are still popular with consumers. According to the Wall Street Journal, minivan sales increased by 22.5% between August of 2011 and August of 2012. This represented the third greatest gain in sales in the entire automotive market after small and midsize passenger cars.
- New EPA standards for fuel efficiency require changes to the automotive industry. A new fuel economy standard, adopted in August of 2012, requires that all passenger cars and light trucks, including minivans, get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Automakers must begin phasing in these changes by 2017.
- The most fuel-efficient minivan models currently get about 25 miles per gallon on the highway, according to CarsDirect. That's less than half of what they'll need to meet the new standards.
This means that alternative automotive technologies, including hybrid engines, will be necessary in order to meet consumer demand and EPA fuel efficiency standards.
Hybrid Vans Available Internationally
If you live in Japan, you do have a great hybrid van option: the Toyota Estima hybrid. According to HybridCars, this medium-sized minivan, similar to the Toyota Sienna, has been on sale in Japan since 2001. It features four-wheel drive and has plenty of cargo and passenger capacity. It gets about 40 miles per gallon and costs about $50,000.
Advantages of the Estima Hybrid
Whether you live in Japan or are considering importing this vehicle to the United States or Canada, the Estima has a lot of advantages:
- Better gas mileage than any other minivan on the market
- Seats up to eight people
- Great reliability
- Proven hybrid technology
Disadvantages of the Estima Hybrid
There are also a few drawbacks to this vehicle:
- Fuel economy isn't as efficient as a hybrid passenger car
- Difficult to repair or service if importing
- Driver's seat on the right side of the van
- Expensive compared to other minivans
Importing the Toyota Estima Hybrid
According to BATFA, a Japanese car export company, you can expect to pay the following fees when exporting a Toyota Estima Hybrid:
- $50,400 for the purchase of the vehicle
- $1,800 for shipping the van to the United States ($1,400 for shipping to Canada)
- $140 for marine insurance
This results in a total price of $52,340 for importing the van to the United States or $51,940 for importing it to Canada. Each country has its own import and export laws, so you may also have to pay taxes or fees associated with the purchase. In addition, it's important to check with your local law enforcement to determine whether you can drive a vehicle with a right-side drivers seat in your area.
Converting a Minivan to a Hybrid
Unfortunately, there's no magic way to convert a gasoline-powered minivan to a hybrid. Because of the the heavy battery packs and completely new hybrid motor, you'd need a different suspension for your vehicle. However, you can convert you minivan to a plug-in electric vehicle. Companies like GrassrootsEV and ElectroAutomotive sell electric car conversion kits and can help you find a qualified mechanic in your area.
In the Meantime
If you're looking for a hybrid car that can transport your entire family, your options are currently limited to larger hybrid SUVs like the Toyota Highlander hybrid or Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid. However, market conditions and federal regulations are making it increasingly more likely that a hybrid minivan will make it onto the domestic car buying market in years to come. In the meantime, you can practice good driving habits to help conserve fuel and reduce your emissions.