News

Pages

Politics
5:34 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Snyder and Republican leadership to outline progress on budget tomorrow

Governor Rick Snyder outlining his plans in his State of the State address last January.
Michigan House Republicans

Governor Rick Snyder will join House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville at a press conference tomorrow.

They plan to outline the progress they’ve made closing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

But it may be a little awkward, because Snyder still has not reached a deal with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville on his plan for major tax reforms.

Snyder says he hopes the Legislature adopts his plan to tax pensions, and eliminate the business tax in favor of a corporate income tax on profits, but he says he is not pushing his plan too hard just yet.

"Well I’m not leaning on anyone," said Snyder. "I’m having a positive discussion, as I always like to have, about how we can work best together. And I think good partnership opportunities there, and we’re going to continue that dialogue. We’re making positive progress."

A House panel is debating tax plans similar to what Governor Snyder wants.

Leaders in the state Senate are talking about alternatives to Snyder’s plan.

So far, the budget plans include salary restraints on public employees and requiring them to pay more for their benefits.

Some lawmakers say members of the Legislature should take pay cuts and pay more of their benefits too.

But Governor Snyder is staying out of those salary debates.

"Well, we’re three branches of government, and I look at it as they take an opportunity for leadership in an area that affects them. We have more than enough to do in the executive branch."

Snyder has been criticized for paying salaries as large as $250,000 to some of his cabinet members.

Snyder is a self-made millionaire who takes an annual government salary of one dollar.

Education
5:04 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Explosive growth at community colleges likely to slow this fall

Many comunity colleges in Michigan saw a significant jump in student enrollment in the fall of 2009.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Michigan community colleges have seen double-digit growth and record numbers of students in the last couple years. But many community colleges expect that trend to slow down, or even stop, this year.

Muskegon Community College’s Dean of Enrollment Services George Maniatessays the school has nearly 20% more students now than it did in 2006.

 “The easy money for retraining, the No worker Left Behind Programs, those are all now gone. So people are pretty much on their own."

Maniates says his school is already seeing a significant decrease in the number of “adult learners” over 23 years old enrolling for summer and fall classes. He says that’s mainly because there’s less money for job retraining programs.

“We’re also seeing a lot of families who are torn between ‘well can I find a summer job – or do I go to school?”

Mike Hansen is president of Michigan’s Association of Community Colleges. He expects most community colleges will see flat or slower enrollment growth this fall.

“Now you have to remember too these are increases from historic highs. In other words if you walked onto these campuses you’d say ‘wow there’s tons of people here. There’s no spots left in the parking lot.”

He expects colleges in more rural areas will be harder hit.

Education
4:17 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

DPS reorganization calls for closures, conversions to charter

DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb
Sarah Hulett Michigan RAdio

Thousands of kids in the Detroit Public Schools system could see their school close or become a charter school next fall.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb laid out his reorganization plan today. It calls for closing seven schools this summer and one next summer. Another 18 schools will close by the fall unless a charter school operator can be identified to run them. And 27 more schools will be offered for conversion to charter schools, but will remain open otherwise.

Bobb says national experts and the community will carefully vet the applications to find “superstar” charter operators:

"It doesn’t do us any good to have anyone come in and receive a charter if in fact they do not have a proven track record of student achievement."

Detroit Board of Education President Anthony Adams says the troubled school district can either continue to close schools, or rethink its approach completely:

"If it is our responsibility to provide the highest level of education for students within our community, then we have to embrace a different service model of what we do."

The list of 32 schools is fewer than half the troubled school district will have to close or convert to charters to erase a $327 million dollar deficit. Bobb says it will be his successor’s job to finish the job. His contract expires at the end of June.

Environment
4:15 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Court of Appeals rules against Michigan CAFO operators

(USGS)

Large factory farms have lost a major court case in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The case involves farming operations with hundreds, sometimes thousands of animals. They are often called CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The appellate court upheld a lower court ruling that the state could require large confined animal feeding operations to get pollution discharge permits before opening. Farm groups challenged the state rule insisting they should only need a permit after releasing manure causing water pollution.  But today, the three judge panel disagreed:

We conclude that the DEQ was fully authorized to require CAFOs to either (1) seek and obtain an (federal) permit (irrespective of whether they actually discharge pollutants), or (2) satisfactorily demonstrate that they have no potential to discharge.  The circuit court  properly denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary disposition and granted summary disposition in favor of the DEQ.

Ann Wiowode  is the director of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. She welcomes this week’s ruling. 

 “That is essential in insuring they’re not allowed to begin operation and potentially pollute the water  without going through proper review.”

But while she welcomes the decision, Wiowode says more work is needed to protect Michigan from water pollution connected to agriculture. 

 “We think the regulations are still too weak.  And based on our experience, the permits themselves have many things that could be improved.”   

The Michigan Farm Bureau expressed disappointment with the decision.

Read more
Environment
3:58 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Meeting tonight about pollution under Ann Arbor

A graphic representation of the dioxane plume under Ann Arbor
Scio Residents for Safe Water

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is holding a public meeting tonight about changes to the 1,4-dioxane groundwater cleanup plan in Ann Arbor.

The meeting will be held at 7:00 p,m. at Abbot Elementary School, 2670 Sequoia Parkway, Ann Arbor.

From the MDEQ:

Read more
health
3:52 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Top 5 healthiest and unhealthiest counties in Michigan

This map shows healthier counties in white, unhealthier counties in green.
countyhealthrating.org

A new study says Ottawa County is the healthiest county in Michigan. The county borders Lake Michigan’s shore directly west of Grand Rapids.

Marcia Knoll is a community health analyst at Ottawa County’s Health Department. She says the department does not take credit for the county’s “healthiest” rating. Knoll says there are many organizations, churches and people working together to keep the community healthy.

“Instead of standing like silos, each with our own agenda and our own territory. So that’s not the environment here, that’s not the culture here and I think that has stood us well in the struggles and with our health care.”

The study was done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It looks at a number of measures that affect a community’s health; how many people smoke, are overweight, and have access to fresh, healthy foods.

Read more
Politics
3:27 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

FOIA requests raise concern over academic freedom

K. Sawyer Flickr

Controversy continues to swirl around collective bargaining rights--and the protests that recent legislation has sparked--in Michigan and Wisconsin.

At issue now is a number of Freedom of Information Act requests done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The requests have been made for information on faculty at Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.

Some critics are claiming that the FOIA requests are being used to intimidate college professors from participating in pro-labor protests.

Read more
State Law
2:31 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Two state lawmakers push to restore jobless benefits cuts

Two Democratic state lawmakers are preparing legislation that would restore unemployment benefits cuts recently signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.  Snyder signed legislation to extend federal jobless benefits, but the bill also contained a provision shrinking state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks next year.  

Republicans lawmakers pushed for the jobless benefits cuts, saying it will reduce the burden on Michigan businesses, which pay into the state unemployment insurance pool. Jim Ananich is a state representative from Flint.   He’s introducing legislation to restore those benefits.  

“You know I’m hopeful that they will see the error of their ways and see that now is not a time to be taking money out of people’s pockets.”

Ananich hopes to introduce his bill next month.

Auto/Economy
2:09 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

New restrictions for young drivers take effect

Sam Kim Flickr

Buckle up, kiddos!

A new law restricting Level 2 driver's license holders (basically, first year drivers who have passed their driving test) goes into effect today.

The restrictions include:

  • Drivers cannot carry more than one passenger below the age of 21 unless they are family members
  • Drivers cannot drive after 10 p.m. or before 5 a.m. Exceptions include going to and from work, and driving when accompanied by a parent, guardian or other adult (21 years and older).

The Detroit News has more:

Listen up, teenage drivers: Starting today, some of you will be driving less and with fewer pals in the car because of two big changes to Michigan's Graduated Driver Licensing Law...

The more teens in a vehicle, the greater the chance of a crash, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning, a division of the Michigan State Police.

According to the 2009 Michigan Traffic Crash fact sheet, younger drivers "were less likely to be alone in their car at the time of the crash," with 169 people ages 16-24 killed and nearly 18,000 injured.

"Studies have shown for teen drivers, the crash risk increases exponentially for each additional passenger, but parents seem unaware of the dangers associated with passengers and nighttime driving," said Michael L. Prince, director of the Office of Highway Safety Planning. "The new requirements and the awareness campaign will go a long way in improving teen driving safety."

AAA of Michigan is on board with the new changes, according to Jack Peet, traffic safety manager.

"This new law will help strengthen the graduated licensing approach where teens gain more driving privileges as they get older and acquire more experience," Peet said.

"Many studies have shown that limiting the number of teen passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen or novice driver helps make them safer."

Before today, Level 2 drivers were allowed to stay on the roads until midnight.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio News

Governor Snyder
1:12 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Snyder to discuss 'legislative accomplishments and future plans' tomorrow

Governor Rick Snyder (R)
Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

Governor Rick Snyder plans to, "discuss legislative accomplishments and future plans" at a press conference scheduled for tomorrow morning in Lansing. Lt. Governor Brian Calley, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, and Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger will be there as well. The Detroit News reports:

It's a sign of Republican unity amid continued signs that pieces of Snyder's Feb. 17 budget could be in trouble in the Legislature. For example, enough GOP senators have said they don't support Snyder's pension tax as he has proposed it, which could keep it from passing if Democrats vote against it as a bloc.

Snyder said he, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, will talk about "what we've accomplished so far this year," and what "we're still working on."

Snyder made his remarks today after signing the 15th bill enacted into law by the Legislature since he took office Jan. 1.

"If you go through the State of the State, we've accomplished most of those items," Snyder said, referring to the January speech he gave to lay out his legislative agenda and broader vision for the state...

Earlier bills signed into law eliminated an item pricing requirement for retailers, strengthened the powers of emergency managers appointed by the state to oversee financially troubled cities and school districts and provided incentives for environmental self-regulation by farmers.

Commentary
12:48 pm
Wed March 30, 2011

Cutting Unemployment Benefits

Two days ago a friend of mine called me in a semi-panic. Her unemployment benefits were about to run out, and she had eighty-seven dollars to her name. She wasn’t going to be able to make the modest payment on her small house, and didn’t know what to do. Nor did she understand what was going on in the legislature. Someone had told her that the governor was signing a bill to extend unemployment benefits. Somebody else told her he was going to shorten them. Which, she wanted to know, was it?

Well, both, I said. The governor signed a bill Monday that extends eligibility for federal extended unemployment benefits for up to ninety-nine weeks.

That’s only, however, for people like my friend Karen, who already is collecting unemployment.

Next year, however, things will change drastically. Any Michigander who loses his or her job after January 15, 2012 will only be eligible for state unemployment benefits for a maximum of twenty weeks. That’s less than five months.

For years, jobless workers in Michigan have been able to collect benefits for a maximum of twenty-six weeks, or six months. They can collect them for longer periods of time now because the federal government decided to temporarily provide benefits, because of the lingering effects of the recession. Those effects are still hanging on in Michigan, where unemployment is still more than ten percent. Economists expect that to come down a little by next year, but we’re likely to continue to be a long way from full employment. What that means is that for many people, twenty weeks is not going to be enough time to find a job.

So why is our government making it tough for jobless workers? Interestingly, nobody is really coming forward to defend this. Governor Snyder said he signed this bill because it was necessary to extend benefits for those who are jobless now. He said he would have been happy to leave eligibility at twenty-six weeks, and blamed the legislature for shortening the time period. Why did they do this? Well, nobody is rushing forward to claim credit.

Read more
Auto
10:58 am
Wed March 30, 2011

Michigan Radio's auto-beat reporter tries out the assembly line

Tracy Samilton on the "assembly line". The reporters "recorded 22 safety 'incidents' in 20 minutes."
Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio’s auto-beat reporter Tracy Samilton spent the day yesterday at General Motors’ Orion assembly plant outside of Pontiac.

Samilton was one of 16 reporters who were invited by GM and the UAW to see just what it takes to build a car.

Joanne Muller was one of the other reporters on the scene. In a blog-post published today on Forbes.com Muller writes, “After spending half a day learning how to put together an automobile, I have this to say: it is not as easy as it looks.”

In the post, titled, “My New Appreciation for the American Auto Worker,” Muller explains:

My job was to use a power tool to attach front and rear “bumpers” on a wooden mock-up of a car as it rolled down the assembly line. Then later, I swapped jobs with a coworker and began installing “headlights” and “tail lights."

I was, in a word, terrible at it.

But, it wasn’t just Muller who couldn’t keep up. Apparently, our very own Tracy Samilton had some troubles of her own. Muller writes:

The other journalists were just as bad, or worse, at their jobs. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton and I were like Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up in the candy factory. She dropped a “bumper” on the floor, meaning the part had to be scrapped and our team would not meet its cost target. Safety was also lacking: the journalists recorded 22 safety “incidents” in 20 minutes — including a worker who was hit four times by a car coming down the line. At the end of our first 20-minute shift, we produced only 13 cars (instead of 18, our target), with a total of 25 defects, which meant we would have to return Saturday for unscheduled overtime to fix the faulty cars and meet our production goals. I learned that’s a very bad thing.

Samilton says the visit to the plant made her realize the pressure and deadlines that today’s factory workers are under, “and I thought it was hard being a reporter,” she noted.

Here's a video of Samilton at work:

Sports
10:57 am
Wed March 30, 2011

Report: Sale of Detroit Pistons to be completed next month

CBSSports.com is reporting that the final deal to sell the Detroit Pistons will be completed by the middle of April.  The NBA franchise has been on the block since the death of longtime owner Bill Davidson. There have been many suitors, but it appears the winner is billionaire Tom Gores.  

CBSSports senior writer Ken Berger says the sale could be made official in a few weeks. 

Word in league circles is that negotiations to sell the Pistons to billionaire Tom Gores are far enough along to expect the matter to come to a vote by the Board of Governors April 14-15 in New York. League approval will be a welcome development for the organization, whose basketball operations department was paralyzed by the proposed sale. The Pistons are one of a handful of teams not to complete a single roster transaction this season. 

One stumbling block that has slowed the sale of the Pistons is the question 'How much is the franchise actually worth?' Forbes recently reported the value of the franchise has dropped about 25%.

Sports
10:18 am
Wed March 30, 2011

UM's football coach inks lucrative contract

U of M head football coach Brady Hoke (right), poses with Athletic Director Dave Brandon
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Brady Hoke signed a six year contract Monday, that could average out to $3.25 million a year.  The Associated Press reports Hoke will be paid $2 million in the first year of the contract: 

Hoke will be paid $2 million this year and his base salary will increase by $100,000 each season. Hoke will earn a $1.5 million "stay bonus" after his third year and another $1.5 million "stay bonus" if he is still leading college football's winningest program in the sixth season of his contract.  

The Associated Press also quoted U of M Athletic Director Dave Brandon expressing confidence in Hoke.

"It's a big job with a lot of expectations and we feel very good about how much we're compensating him to help us reach those expectations." 

Brady Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez who lost the Wolverine head coaching job after three lackluster seasons and an NCAA investigation. Hoke was an assistant coach under Lloyd Carr before becoming a successful head coach at Ball State and San Diego State University.

 Hoke issued this statement on his new contract:

The contract was handled by my agent and the University. My focus has been on the football program and will continue to be on making this program the best in America. I couldn’t tell you what’s in the contract other than my signature. The University offered Laura and I an opportunity to coach at Michigan and that’s been my dream. Nothing will change my focus.

Arts/Culture
9:13 am
Wed March 30, 2011

Shipwreck found in Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan near Saugatuck. MSRA reports the shipwreck was found in 250 of water between Saugatuck and South Haven.
user ldisme Flickr

According to one estimate, there are around 3,000 shipwrecks in Lake Michigan (estimate from Jim Jarecki, President/Archivist of the Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago).

Now, add one more to that list. From the Associated Press:

An organization that documents shipwrecks says it's found the wreck of a 60-foot, single-masted sloop in Lake Michigan that may date back to the 1830s.

Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates this week announced that the wreck was found off southwestern Michigan in water about 250 feet deep between Saugatuck and South Haven. The discovery was made while working with author Clive Cussler and his sonar operator Ralph Wilbanks of the National Underwater & Marine Agency.

Holland-based Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates says the vessel sits upright and is in relatively good condition. The group says the sloop's construction and design are consistent with ships built in the 1820s and 1830s.

Video of the wreck is expected to be shown April 16 at an event in Holland.

Read more
News Roundup
9:00 am
Wed March 30, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, March 30th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

So-Long Price Tags

Retailers will no longer have to put price tags on almost every individual item they sale. Governor Snyder signed a bill yesterday that repeals the requirement. Michigan was the only state in the country to have such sweeping price tag laws, Rick Pluta reports. Item-pricing was popular with much of the public. The law just signed by the Governor has a provision that makes sure the new law cannot be reversed by a citizen referendum, Pluta reports.

Shared Sacrifice Among Lawmakers

Republican state Senator Rick Jones has introduced a bill that would require state legislators to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums. With the state facing a $1.4 billion budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, Governor Snyder wants state employees to  pay 20 percent of their health care insurance and, so, Senator Rogers thinks state lawmakers should have to do the same. Senator Jones has also introduced a bill to alter the lifetime health insurance that legislators receive after serving only six years, calling it “obscene,” Tracy Samilton reports.

Price of Homes Continues to Fall

Homes values in Metro Detroit declined to a new low in January. From the Detroit News:

Among the 20 major cities surveyed for the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, Detroit ranked last with an index of 66.02. The region's previous low was 66.47 in December. Case-Shiller uses home values from January 2000 as a starting point of 100 — anything higher shows a gain, and anything lower is a loss. Compared with other major cities, Detroit is much lower.

According to Home Price Index, home values in Metro Detroit are the lowest since 1993.

Auto/Economy
8:56 am
Wed March 30, 2011

Fiat/Chrysler CEO predicts "$100 billion" revenues by 2014

Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne speaking at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2011
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne talked about an improving revenue picture ahead of a Fiat stockholders meeting today in Turin, Italy. He also says Fiat may soon increase its stake in Chrysler from 25% to 35% this year.   Fiat took over management of Chrysler 21 months ago, as the Detroit automaker emerged from bankruptcy protection.

Agenzia Giornalistica Italia reports that Marchionne told investors  that he is confident Fiat's 2011 goals will be met:

He explained, moreover, that in 2011, profits will amount to 37 billion(with the possibility of reaching more than 100 billion after 2014, due to the Chrysler integration effect), whereas the management outcome will range from 0.9 and 1.2 billion. Dividends policy will be confirmed (25% of net profits will go into dividends).

The Wall Street Journal quotes Marchionne as saying Fiat will increase this year its share of the European auto marker, where it saw a decline in 2010. 

"We expect a general improvement in trading conditions, with the exception of the passenger-car market in Europe, which will be negatively influenced by declines forecast for Italy and France...Nevertheless, we project that our market share will increase as a result of new model releases programmed for the second half".

Read more
State law
7:51 am
Wed March 30, 2011

Harsher punishment for teachers who go on strike?

A state law that would require punishment for Michigan teachers who go on strike appears to be on a fast-track in the state legislature, Steve Carmody reports. Republican State Representative Bill Rogers has authored one of two bills that would require a two year license suspension and a large daily fine for striking teachers. Carmody reports:

Rogers expects the anti-teacher strike bills will move quickly through the legislature and may reach the governor's desk before a possible statewide teachers' strike next month. The state's largest teachers' union is mulling possible job actions, including teacher walk-outs, to protest cuts in school funding and other issues.

A press release on Rep. Rogers' website explains the rationale behind the measures:

Teacher strikes put the education of students and teachers' jobs at risk and have recently been encouraged by Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Iris Salters. Striking is illegal in Michigan, although penalties for doing so are hard to enforce.

House Bill 4466... will fine the Michigan Education Association $5,000 per teacher for each full or partial day that public school employees are engaged in a strike or strike like activities. The bill also orders employees to pay a fine in the amount equal to one day of pay for every day or partial day in which an employee participates in a strike...

House Bill 4465... requires that state superintendents suspend a teacher's license for a period of two years or permanently revoke their license, if caught breaking existing strike laws.

"This legislation discourages teachers from striking by putting teeth into the current strike law," said Rogers, R-Brighton. "We need to put the focus back onto educating our children. Children are the ones who suffer from teacher strikes and this legislation makes sure those who choose to participate face consequences for their actions."

Governor Snyder says he hopes teachers won’t authorize their union to call a statewide strike in response to his budget plans. Snyder proposed a $470 per-pupil-cut in state education spending earlier this year.

State lawmakers are on a Spring break until April 11th.

Transportation
6:53 am
Wed March 30, 2011

Small plane crashes in Monroe

Update 3/30/2011, 6:32 a.m.:

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman says three people have been killed after a small, single-engine Piper airplane crashed into a Monroe city park, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Police and other emergency personnel responded to the Tuesday afternoon crash at Munson Park. A police dispatcher says reports of the crash came in at 4:04 p.m.

Munson Park is at the southeast corner of Monroe Custer Airport, about 35 miles southwest of Detroit and just north of the Ohio state line.

FAA Spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory says her agency is investigating the crash. The investigation will be led by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Tracking service FlightAware.com reports that the plane left an airport in Bedford County, Pa., at 2:26 p.m. and was due in Monroe at 4 p.m.

3/29/2011, 5:12 p.m.:

From the Associated Press:

Police and other emergency personnel are responding to a small plane crash at Munson Park in the city of Monroe.

A police dispatcher says reports of the crash came in at 4:04 p.m. Tuesday.

It was not immediately known if anyone on the plane or on the ground suffered any injuries.

Monroe is about 35 miles southwest of Detroit and just north of the Ohio state line.

This from FOX 2 News in Detroit:

FOX 2 News is learning there has been a small plane crash near Monroe Custer Airport in Munson Park just across North Custer Road from the airport.

Witnesses tell us they could see smoke coming from the area.

We spoke by phone with a man who works nearby. He says he saw the burning plane and heard there were three people on board.

A second caller tells FOX 2 he's hearing there are three victims, as well.

Firefighters and police are on the scene.

Auto/Economy
10:08 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

Minivans fight "Loser Cruiser" stereotype with new sex appeal

The 2011 Nissan Quest

Pity the poor minivan. 

It hauls the family on vacations, never complaining.  

Carries the kids to school and soccer practice.  

Ever ready for a spontaneous trip to the hardware store, but does it get any respect? Nope. 

It gets called names. 

"Loser cruiser."

"Road slug."   

Well, if you make minivans, you can get mad.  Or like Toyota, you can embrace the situation with a tongue-in-cheek rap -- “The Swagger Wagon”  sung by an unhip, white, yuppie, suburban couple, with their two kids jammin' to the beat, next to a Sienna minivan.

"We rock the SE not the SUV, and it's true if I were you I'd be jealous of me, in the swagger wagon, yeah, the swagger wagon, I got the pride in my ride in the swagger wagon...."

Chrysler invented the minivan 27 years ago.  But after being wildly popular for years, the segment has lost customers, first to SUVS, then to crossovers. 

The people who design minivans are the first to admit they’re fighting an image problem.  And they’re doing something about it.  Chrysler has an optional all-black leather interior it nicknamed the “Man Van. “  All four of the biggest players – Honda, Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan – got minivan makeovers this year.  There’s more sculpting, more chrome, more creased sheet metal.  Even jaunty little fins.  Sage Marie is with Honda.    

"If you think of what makes a sports car compelling, it’s that its low and wide, that's what makes it emotionally exciting.  So from a styling standpoint we tried to do that with the Odyssey."

In your FACE, sports car owners.  And cue another tongue-in-cheek song about minivans, this time a Beach Boys-style parody by the Austin Lounge Lizards.

"Hey, little minivan, we're going to the grocery store!/She's got an automatic tranny with overdrive and the radio's tuned to Magic 95/ She gets 30 miles on a gallon of gas and  I can schlep all the girls to gymnastics class/Hey little minivan, we're goin' to the children's museum!"

Well, upping the cool factor may help.  But people really buy minivans for comfort,  convenience, and practicality.  The sliding doors, all that space.  And the seats. 

Minivan designers take fierce pride in their seating configurations.   Honda’s Odyssey has a second row middle seat you can slide really close to the front seat.  That puts the baby within arm’s reach of a parent.  For Chrysler, the bragging point is “Stow and Go seats,”  which, in a matter of a few seconds, can be neatly folded and pushed into a compartment in the floor.

Fold all the seats down and there’s enough room for a refrigerator or two.   But one company thinks some customers could be willing to downsize a little, especially as gas hovers around $4.00 a gallon.  Ford Motor Company’s new small people-mover, the C-Max, will seat seven.  It will have sliding doors.  But Ford’s Paul Anderson says it will get car-like fuel economy.  Just don’t call it a minivan.

Read more

Pages