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
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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.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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

 

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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.

4runner 1 11
Toyota

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.

Centaur 1 11
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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Montana 1 11
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.

Carnival 1 11 1

Carnival 1 11 2
Kia

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:

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Adventure 1 1 10

Img20240111 2146556422 C

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.

Img20240111 2146556422 A

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.

Xuv 2 1 11

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:

Img20240111 2146556422 B

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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Adventure 1 1 10b

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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.

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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!

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

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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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Lally Singh
Lally Singh
4 months ago

I see this an my only thoughts are:

  1. Can a single person do these transformations within a few minutes, while the family waits and stares?
  2. Where do the unused parts go, and can I store them without them getting messed up?

Connectors, seals, and interior cloth are vulnerable things to put on your garage floor. Even more if it’s one person awkwardly trying to move it safely. How much is that cap going to weigh?

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
4 months ago

I appreciate your work but i think there is a reason this type of vehicle didn’t catch on.
There are just too many compromises to this design at it would probably suck a bit at everything you try to do with it.
Also,I just wondered,where would the door handle for the rear doors go when in pickup mode? They seem to be attached to the top,which would mean they are removed when removing the top.

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
4 months ago

Category 1: You’re A Genius.

Space
Space
4 months ago

OK here is another suggestion,

In an alternate reality Mercedes (the person) is looking on Facebook marketplace for converted vans and stumbles upon the official late 1970-early 1980’s pepboys pepmobile mobile repair van (PPMRV) . Made from a converted E series (or any other platform you want) this baby could lift the car inside to be repaired in a climate controlled environment. It even came with a roof mounted engine lift and 110VAC.

Oldskool
Oldskool
4 months ago

So it’s a modern take on a K5 Blazer. What’s old is new again!

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago

I project all sorts of Instagram posts generated by partiers using the Targa mode.

Another Engineer
Another Engineer
4 months ago

So this entire exercise is admittedly just about vanity. Well, I suppose also about avoiding vanity.

John Downey
John Downey
4 months ago

One design I’d be interested in is a practical high efficiency EV for road trips. We all know massive batteries are wasteful and take longer to charge, but everybody prioritizes range they rarely use second only to vehicle size. If you really just wanted a car with ~300 miles of highway range and the minimum possible recharge time for 4 people and weekend bags could you do it with 60kWh and 800 V architecture? Would it look like the Volkswagen XL1 or would the switch to electric power change it?

I can imagine lots of small families having a 150 mile range crossover and this hypothetical vehicle for road trips and still having less total battery capacity than any single new full size EV.

Joe Nuttall
Joe Nuttall
4 months ago

I would buy this so hard

Ok_Im_here
Ok_Im_here
4 months ago

Not my favorite b/c as soon as you decide to move towards the Kia idea of making a minivan more SUV-like with the front hood, you’ve lost me. Why take what is a net advantage of a minivan, a short hood, and lose it just for style purposes?

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
4 months ago

Please, dear readers, do not hesitate to keep these comments coming.

Well, since you said “please”…
Start with a body-on-frame Escalade or Navigator and turn it into a Zimmer-esque, neo-classic, dual-cowl phaeton.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago

Ok, you had me at ‘dual-cowl’
This is madness I would like to see

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago

I like it, and the best part? All Kia Adventure Victorinox Edition owners all over the world can hold rallies and call them KAVE Ins!

Last edited 4 months ago by Canopysaurus
Chronometric
Chronometric
4 months ago

I like it. Wouldn’t work. Don’t want it. Keep it up.
If Autopian has credibility, it is for crazy stuff like this.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
4 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Yup. The Autopian is a madhouse… as it should be. There are plenty of “serious” car sites on the web, but for some reason I can’t think of any offhand. I prefer the weirdness here. Where else can you find a off the wall, completely impractical, but awesome idea like this?

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
4 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Me: this is stupid, they would lose so much money on this and whoever greenlit it would never work in the industry again.
Also me: I love it

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
4 months ago

There is something weird going on between the forward edge of the rear doors and the B pillar, but nevertheless, I approve.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago

Well this design took me from won’t work to I want one. A question will there be leg room for the back two rows? As we all know the floor of thebedin a pickup is higher than the floor of the cab. Once you install seats and fold them down i think the floor is going to be too high for people and cargo. I think Jeep does close to the goal but would love me a series 1 Himmer would be a better base to work from, with pop out rear seats. A soft and hardtop option, would allow differing safety levels, a convertible, a diesel motor a manual transmission, ( or a Manuel transmission south of the border, tough look and great hauling performance, a 4 passenger 4 foot bed or 2 passenger 8 foot bed,

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
4 months ago

The heavy forward rake on the B pillar line with the roof off really makes me think of this as a heavily enlarged version of ’00s Austrailian utes.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
4 months ago

Huge fan of the Victorinox logo. Appreciate that detail. Also it looks like an extended Santa Cruz in some views to me.

Stryker_T
Stryker_T
4 months ago

these illustrations keep reminding me of Inspector Gadget’s transforming van/car.

Last edited 4 months ago by Stryker_T
JDE
JDE
4 months ago

I always kind of wondered why some of the innovative things in a relatively cheap car were not transferred over tot he things they came from at some point. Why not make 4 door vehicles, cars or other wise with rear door or even all door that slide forward and back instead of swinging out? Why did the Aztek cooler no make it to the Buick Version of it, let alone the minivans it was based upon? Same with the optional tents? WHy did Dodge seem to have the lock on fold flat seats and with all the vehicles getting taller, why can we not have that on anything SUV really? The list goes on…

Pisco Sour
Pisco Sour
4 months ago
Reply to  JDE

WHy did Dodge seem to have the lock on fold flat seats

I believe they got a patent on the stow-n-go seats. Which, as a patent attorney and Dodge Caravan owner, I think is brilliant.

Here it is:

https://patents.google.com/patent/US8632113B2/en

DadBod
DadBod
4 months ago
Reply to  Pisco Sour

They are awesome unless you are the unlucky passenger that has to sit in one.

LuzifersLicht
LuzifersLicht
4 months ago

I was about ready to give this shit up for the new year

That would have been a shame and a half. Sure, maybe some of your ideas aren’t market ready but that’s hardly the point of all of this. Heck, at least 75% of all “concept cars” made by car companies with a budget roughly a million times that of the Autopian are at least as silly as your average concept car. And, more importantly, none of those have made me chuckle the way your stuff manages to do regularly.
I mean, come on Category 2 people, you gotta admit that this is less silly than that BMW car that changes colours. It was named “i Vision Dee” for fucks sake and they tried marketing it with a cringy sentient-AI-takes-over-BMW-facebook-account campaign. Wanna shit on something “that will never work and puts a company’s credibility at stake” then go take your pick of any number of stuff that isn’t on a car website known for weird takes and barely controlled chaos.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
4 months ago

So, you made a pick-up, with a cap…. and extra doors? Would that just be an extended K5/Bronco/RamCharger with extra doors?

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
4 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Perfect. I know a soccer mom that would take 2!

10001010
10001010
4 months ago

I’m kinda digging the targa config. I mean the truck mode is more practical and the full convertible suggest it’d be more fun but I keep coming back to that targa illustration instead.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
4 months ago

Big fan of making convertibles out of things that aren’t meant to be convertibles. It’s so…Hot Wheels. Makes me happy.

On this score, bravo to Alex for your stipulation of no motorized/oddball parts!

It’s the 21st century and we still can’t seem that make that work reliably well, and given the (in relative terms) short sales life to ownership life of vehicle models, it’s always a recipe for disappointment when the damn thing won’t work, ala the Jeep Liberty’s cool but now sad skyslider roof.

Give me a boring manual pop off roof any day of the week on anything. Biggest thing about the contemporary Porsche 911 Targa that turns me off is the complexity of it all.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
4 months ago

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!

So you do all The Autopian stuff for fun? You’re a weird dude, Mr The Bishop

I don’t hate this idea, but I forsee the beancounters getting ahold of it and making decisions that would just erase all usability from its various modes.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
4 months ago

Did you come across too many GMC Envoy XUV listings this week?

Nick Ginther
Nick Ginther
4 months ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

I am actively looking for on, there aren’t that many listings.

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