Though minivan sales have cooled significantly in the past five years, American families snap up more than a million minivans annually. Brands like Ford, Nissan, and GM may have pulled back from minivans entirely but Chrysler, Honda and Toyota are still dedicated to providing buyers with those traditionally flavored family movers.
For the companies that dropped their minivans but still need to offer shoppers something for large families, change is coming. Ford is nearly ready to build its new Flex crossover, which offers minivan room with a more wagonlike body. And now Nissan is showing a concept that could bring a crossover with strong minivan overtones to its lineup.
The concept is the Forum, which Nissan says “represents the next revolution in family transportation.”
The challenge, Nissan officials add, is “making family passenger vehicles more appealing to both drivers and passengers.”
The Forum concept isn’t unrecognizable to minivan drivers and owners. It has the big box in back for kids and cargo, but Nissan designers have gone with a higher beltline, styled side glass and a wider stance, to give a more sporty feel to the traditional one-box van. Emphasizing that theme is a curvaceously sweeping grille that is accented by a soft LED light bar. While Nissan hasn’t eliminated the sliding doors that parents love, it has carefully hidden their tracks.
The front doors swing open to a 90-degree angle. Further enhancing the sense of spaciousness, the Forum’s sides have lost the typical B-pillars that would reinforce the middle of its body; instead, designers have penned in stronger door and roof frames.
Atop the Forum, the huge SkyView roof contains hidden sunshades, permitting the glass to be closed off on hot days.
While the goal was to maintain functionality for the kids, Nissan designers set out to style the Forum’s interior so it was also appealing to adults. Call it a “family limousine,” suggests Rachel Nguyen, Nissan North America’s Director of Advanced Planning and Strategy.
“From a conceptual standpoint, the Forum is closer to a family limousine than the minivans Gen Xers have grown up with. But unlike a real limo – or sometimes traditional minivans – the Forum driver is just as important as the passengers,” explains Nguyen.
As the name Forum might suggest, the interior of the concept is seen as a place to bring people together. It is divided into two connected zones. There’s the parents’ zone, up front, with comfortable but sporty seats, as well as the vehicle’s gauge and control center, as well as electronics like Bluetooth, for hands-free calling.
The rear, or children’s, zone is dedicated to keeping kids safe, comfortable – and something parents will appreciate – entertained. As you’d expect, that means a variety of the latest infotainment systems. There’s even a console-mounted microwave, accessible from the front or middle rows, sized for making popcorn.
The second row’s turntable-style seating allows the twin buckets to face out for tailgating and picnicking. Or the seats can swivel a full 180 degrees, to face the rear three-seat bench, creating a sort of living room environment.
Nissan has even built in a pair of “Kids Cams,” which can be displayed on the instrument panel’s LCD monitor. If a little discipline is needed, there’s also a “Time Out” system, which will mute all audio devices – and broadcast the driver’s voice on all the Forum’s speakers.
Bose designed a SeatCentric system for the concept, with a variety of speakers, including some built into headrests and seatbacks. Independent audio is available for each of the Forum’s three rows.
Under the hood, the Forum features a clean diesel engine, like the one the automaker is planning to offer in the next new Maxima sedan. It’s mated to a version of the mileage minded continuously variable transmission (CVT) Nissan has been rolling out throughout its global product lineup.
Whether the Forum will take a place in the Nissan lineup is unclear. It’s obvious that the automaker is looking for an acceptable alternative to its slow-selling Quest minivan. If the Forum gets people talking the idea up during the coming auto show season, Nissan very well could find a place for this new people mover.