Home » You Asked For It: A Minivan Made Cooler And More Versatile At The Same Time

You Asked For It: A Minivan Made Cooler And More Versatile At The Same Time

Swiss Army Car Ts2

It’s been a while that I’ve been making these strange posts dealing with twisted automotive concepts, and I know by now that a large number of the comments that I’ll get will fall into one of three categories.

  • Category 1: You’re A Genius:  “Damn, I hate you, since I want this thing so badly and I can’t have it! I love these posts!” These are nice to hear after you might have spent all day in a real job involving design plus sales and hearing people say unhelpful crap like “We don’t really have a brand language, but I think you’re missing our brand language with your concepts”.
  • Category 2: You’re An Idiot: “This will never work, and it puts the credibility of this site into serious question.” I tend to agree with these, but to those commenters I regret to say that I’m unlikely to stop any time soon.
  • Category 3: You Should Try This:  This is the response that I’ve been most interested in recently: “I like the basic concept but I think it would work better if…” What follows is often a pretty insightful alternative design idea, and one that I’d like to pursue. There’s just one problem: I’ve already moved on to the next weird post and don’t want to deal with the one that I just finished. Come on, that would make this just like being at work!

With the new year, however, I’m trying to take another look at some worthy rethinks by commenters of previous ideas. You asked for it.

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The Swiss Army Knife Vehicle

One that I uncovered recently was for a concept I presented a while back involving a Ford F150/Tesla pickup mashup that could convert to an enclosed SUV with retractable windows and slide roof:

Tesla 150 2



At the end of the post, a commenter named Alex proposed a different version of this idea. Here’s part of his comment:

Boy, I really struggle with this truck/SUV conundrum. I’ve had both and the only advantage of a truck bed is those occasional times you need to carry something oversize – and even then the 4 door/short bed is limited compared to an old-school 8 foot bed. That and the bed being a “dirty” zone separated from the “clean” interior – which is eliminated in any convertible, mid-gate setup.

Otherwise a truck bed is a bit of a hassle. No security, no weather protection, stuff slides around. An SUV is more practical – more seating, more security, more weather protection. The MOST practical of course, would be a big old van. Even modern minivans – drop the seats and you can carry a 4×8 sheet of plywood. So the most PRACTICAL answer would be a high-roof 3-row van with seats that drop into the floor, AWD and a tow package.

Well, you have a point there, Alex. Pickups have serious limitations. Still, the challenge with selling vans is, oh, you already know:

Van’s don’t sell and trucks do. Why? They look cool! So what you really need is a vehicle with cool features and a cool aesthetic that can carry people and some stuff most of the time and big stuff just occasionally. What does that look like?

It would look like the modern equivalent of an early 4-Runner with a robust accessories package. Rear seats would fold flat. Third row would be a rear facing seat that drops into a “trunk” (like the trunk in the original Honda Ridgeline) or maybe a bolt-in jump seat. Tailgate/lifting glass at the back and a removable rear cap and some kind of rollbar (also removable?) – just like the early 4-runner. Lifting glass can be detached, and both the fixed cab roof and removable cap would have large glass roofs. A fabric cap would also be an option, as well as a snap-in waterproof liner for the storage area and a bed extender that will sit on the open tailgate.

Oh, the original 4Runner! Based on arguably the best small truck ever made, this truck gave you the option of being an enclosed SUV or an open-topped fun mobile. I especially liked it all trimmed out in SR5 glory like the pickup version that alternate-future Marty McFly owned. A friend of mine had one and it was indeed fun to ride around in with the roof off (just like you could do with the early Broncos and Blazers), though I do remember that removing that roof was quite an ordeal that involved many bolts and a ceiling winch in the garage.

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Still, is Alex saying to abandon the idea of a van entirely? The minivan is about as close to a cabover as you can get with today’s safety standards; a machine where you aren’t wasting a bunch of length on a hood and engine. General Motors even proposed a minivan-like pickup truck called the Centaur in 1988, and it looked a bit like those Sawzall specials you see people do with decrepit examples of “Dustbuster” vans today.

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General Motors

Admittedly, minivans do not typically “look cool” as Alex says. General Motors knew this and tried to turn their matronly-looking minivans like the second-generation Pontiac TransSport / Montana into something more SUV-like by sticking on a taller nose. This helped but obviously didn’t completely work.

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General Motors

Making It A Reality

So GM proved that making a “tough” looking minivan is a tall order. Still, as luck would have it, there’s the 2025 version of the nice Kia Carnival minivan with a rugged new look that fits the original design and doesn’t appear contrived at all. The Autopian staff (or at least the more open-minded ones, and those with kids) was recently discussing how the Carnival was one of the best deals in versatile people movers on the market today. To expedite things, let’s use this as the basis for our AlexMobile.

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Let’s get to work! I’m thinking it would be called the Kia Adventure Victorinox Edition. As a Swiss Army knife of a vehicle, we might as well do a special branded edition (it was either that of a Paw Patrol version, which sadly might fit the demographic better).

First, the roof aft the “B” pillars gets removed. Actually, that’s not true. We first need to add a heavy reinforcement frame under the van or the whole thing will make like a rusted Porsche 914 and fold in half when we open the doors. Once the cutting is done, we can add on a roof in sections to allow for all of the configurations that Alex asked for…and more. Here’s what your options could include:

1. Enclosed Minivan/MPV/SUV

You can call it whatever you want, but even if you owned one and never touched the roof panels or other components you’d just enjoy it for years as a three-row family machine with all-wheel drive:


Adventure 1 1 10

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2. Targa Top

Start with a slide-back sunroof over the driver and front passenger seat and a lift-off “targa” top over the second row of seats. Note that the rear doors are now hinged, not sliding, and feature frameless glass for that convertible feel for the front two rows.

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3. Tall Cargo Mode

Remember the Studebaker Wagonaire and GMC Envoy XUV? With those vehicles, the rear section of the roof retracted to allow you to carry tall objects:

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General Motors

The XUV also featured a two-way tailgate that opens from the side or folds down.

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The Kia Adventure can do the same. Instead of sliding, the rear roof can pop off. The hatchback of the Carnival van is now replaced with the same type of tailgate design as on the XUV:

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4. Convertible Mode 

Now let’s remove both middle and rear roof sections, roll down all the door windows (including the tailgate glass), and remove the rear quarter window glass. You’ve got an open convertible for all three rows with a “roll bar” for some semblance of safety. Note that I’ve stayed with Alex’s request to have no motorized panels other than perhaps the front sunroof; none of that complexity and weight.


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5. Pickup Format

But we want a pickup truck to be cool (or practical), right? Let’s do it. Both rows of seats could be removed or fold into the floor for full cargo space. There might not be a “midgate” like on the XUV or Avalance, but at least we could provide a convertible top-like soft partition behind the front row to keep the passenger compartment sealed. Like the XUV, every interior surface from the B pillar rearward would be weatherproof to allow it to survive in the elements and be able to clean with a hose.

To carry a lot of tall objects or have the full “pickup” look, you could unbolt the “roll bar” unit and remove it; this would take two people but still be a lot less unwieldy than that old 4Runner top. The only thing I would limit in this form is not allowing the tailgate to open as a door (too much leverage on the side wall).

Adventure 1 1 10a


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Also, you could drive around in this mode with the second or even third row deployed, but for safety there would be interlocks to prevent it or at least a sticker with WARNING: DO NOT ALLOW PASSENGERS TO RIDE IN SECOND OR THIRD ROWS OF MOVING VEHICLE WITH REAR FRAME STRUCTURE REMOVED. Note that for legal reasons it couldn’t be called a “roll bar” but that’s sure as hell what it is.

The AlexMobile Reinvents The MPV?

I mean, it sort of would if we could pull it off.

The Carnival’s slightly extended nose combined with the segmented roof sections takes away some of the minivan stank to the point that you don’t really know what you’re looking at. Big rolling stock, taller ride height, and all-wheel drive would help to push the idea of a vehicle that doesn’t really identify with any one category of machine.

As often happens at my real job, I will misinterpret a person’s suggestion for changes on one of my designs, but they like my misinterpretation better. I hope I haven’t butchered this Autopian’s stellar proposal, but if so my hope is that I’ve messed it up in a good way.


I was about ready to give this shit up for the new year, but your suggestions keep pulling me back in. Please, dear readers, do not hesitate to keep these comments coming.

Thanks, Alex!


What If Mazda Built A Pickup To Compete With The Ford Maverick? Sketches From Our Daydreaming Designer – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines A Rivian With A Ram Revolution-Style Third Row, Except Bigger – The Autopian


Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines The Perfect Little Escape Pod-Car For Your Big Truck – The Autopian

A Pickup That Turns Into An SUV Via Your Phone: Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines How – The Autopian


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Erik McCullough
Erik McCullough
3 months ago

Amazing thoughts. But I had a Nissan Pulsar NX — and I took all that stuff off once. I had an Escalade EXT and the whole thing was too complicated and too gimmicky with the midgate so I never used it. Lastly, I had 2 Jeep Wranglers, and changing “modes” on that is such a hassle (but worth it) that I did it 2x a year and kept it in the garage when not in use.

My point? It sounds really cool and a great idea, but this kind of stuff doesn’t work in real-life execution. Buy vehicles that are purpose designed (e.g. a people mover, a pickup) and not try to do an all-in-one. By the way, it doesn’t work in printers, either.

3 months ago

I love the truck mode version, having doors on the side like that to load cargo in would be amazing. I was a big fan of the 2nd gen Nissan Pulsar NX. Had one for a while, removed the hatch to go convertible-ish mode one time. I liked the available wagon style caps available for the NX’s. Biggest issue was storing the big body parts when they weren’t in use. Keep up the awesome work Bishop! Your another reason I became a member. You did an amazing job helping Jason with this site during his health crisis. Was much appreciated by all of us readers.

Nicholas Adams
Nicholas Adams
3 months ago

Jack of all trades, master of none, but a really cool exercise nonetheless.

I just want an AWD/4WD minivan with 8+ inches of ground clearance. The value of a truck bed is “you can put dirty stuff here”, but there’s this thing called a tarp that basically provides the same functionality in a minivan. Don’t care about tall stuff, lay it on its side.

Mister Win
Mister Win
3 months ago
Reply to  Nicholas Adams

THIS! All I want in the entire world is a 2500 Savanna AWD with the 6.0 liter engine and no backseats, it would solve all my problems. Like, all of them.

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