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Brand-new models may make ’99 year of the minivan renaissance

SHARE Brand-new models may make ’99 year of the minivan renaissance

Reports of the death of the minivan were greatly exaggerated.

When sales fell in 1997 - down roughly 4 percent from a record 770,000 in 1996 - some analysts were quick to declare that baby boomers were growing out of the child-rearing, soccer-mom business that had given minivans their raison d'etre.Au contraire!

With brand-new models from several manufacturers and spruced-up versions from others, 1999 is shaping up to be the year of the minivan. Even Honda - which used to sneer at the competition by promoting its Odyssey as a people carrier for people who wouldn't be seen driving a minivan - has come around. The redesigned Odyssey looks like a minivan, complete with two sliding rear doors.

New models from Ford, Mercury and Nissan have dual sliding doors, too, which have become the norm rather than the exception. And many of these new vehicles can be opened and closed electronically at the push of a button - a neat trick that wowed Danny De-Vi-to in the 1995 film "Get Shorty."

Whether you're in the market for your first minivan or a replacement, you'll discover that the new crop is better than ever. They're safer, more utilitarian and easier to drive than earlier models (and surprisingly, prices are expected to be about the same as for the 1998 versions).