The minivan has become a symbol of modern suburban living, but where did it all begin? While Volkswagen and Chrysler both claim to be the first to market, neither the VW Minibus or Chrysler’s first three minivans were actually where it all began. The DKW Schnellaster and the Citroen H-van were the early predecessors of the minivan we know today. They came to market in 1949 and 1947 respectively. The Citroen H-van was available three full years before the earliest VW Bus. But perhaps the most underrated of them all is the very first of its kind, the Chenard & Walker CHV, which was unveiled in 1946 by the French automaker.
The Chenard & Walker CHV is the earliest version of the cargo-hauling bread-loaf shaped minivan. It boasted a 720cc of twin-cylinder, two-stroke power and a whopping 26 horsepower. Chenard & Walker was bought out by Peugeot who continued to make the minivans under the names Peugeot D3 and D4. They were manufactured until 1965.
Volkswagen unleashed the microbus in 1950. It had a very similar make-up to the CHV but become vastly more popular. VW’s microbus became a counterculture superstar, beloved by anyone with an adventurous spirit , particularly surfers (no carpeted floors with room to stow boards) and hippies & campers (the Microbus was cheap and easy to maintain and repair, with enough space to camp--or live--in). The appeal of the VW bus endured for decades, and it remained essentially unrivaled until Chrysler joined the market in 1983.
The late 1970s and early 80s saw a rapid increase in gas prices. This caused a reconfiguration of sedans and station wagons to become much smaller, leaving no real option for larger family vehicles. And while the VW microbus was widely popular, it wasn’t quite right for the modern suburban family. Born out of necessity for space, affordability, fuel economy, drivability and the ability to fit into a suburban garage--the official minivan was born. Chrysler was the first attributed to the coining of the name “minivan”. The original minivan was the brainchild of Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca. Not only did the minivan become a necessary improvement for family vehicles, it saved the Chrysler corporation.
In 1983 lacocca released the Chrysler Town and Country, the Plymouth Voyager and the Dodge Caravan. And just like that, the next big thing in the minivan world was out there. With a back hatch for easy cargo storage & accessibility, and a sliding door for simple passenger onboarding (and keeping kids from dinging neighboring car doors), the minivan became the symbol of suburbia across the country. And just like that, Chrysler became synonymous with the perfect minivan suburbia was searching for.
Chrysler has sold over 25 million minivans and numerous other competitors have made it to market since. However, none of these would have been possible without the earliest example found in the CHV, or the incredible popularity of the VW microbus. It may have started out as a no-frills cargo hauler, but van's legacy can be seen in driveways worldwide.