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A disturbance in the minivan force

by Chris Vander Doelen on

A second massive safety recall of Honda’s highly-ranked Odyssey minivan for a problem that can cause injuries is so serious it could alter sales patterns.

On Saturday, Honda Motor Co. announced it was recalling 800,000 minivans built between from 2011 to 2017 for a problem which can lead to seats breaking loose from their moorings. The problem does not appear to affect its new 2018 model, launched in May.

2016 honda odyssey

“If a second row seat is not properly latched after adjusting it side-to-side or reinstalling a removed seat, the seat may tip forward during moderate to heavy braking, increasing the risk of injury to an occupant,” Honda said in a statement Saturday regarding its older models.

FCA, Toyota and Honda have been battling it out in the family hauling business since Ford and GM withdrew from the segment. Kia sells a few, too, but isn’t challenging the top three bananas.

There’s still big money to be made in sliding-door living rooms on wheels.  Honda is often named best-in-class by reviewers and critics, despite well-known transmission problems in the Odyssey that began in 1999 but never really stuck to the brand. Consumer Reports recently gave the 2018 a rave review, although it ranked the Chrysler Pacifica higher.

The cumulative 2017 U.S. minivan sales records to the end of September looked like this: Dodge Grand Caravan, 107,592; Toyota Sienna, 87,623; Chrysler Pacifica, 86,342; Honda Odyssey, 75,309; Kia Sedona, 19,920.

Chrysler and Dodge together outsell Toyota and Honda by a mile in minivans — but only with a heavier reliance on incentives than the other two, which cuts deeply into profits.

If quality and safety are your main selling points, and they both  take a well-publicized hit, there could be adjustments in the minivan marketplace. This might help Chrysler and Dodge. But it could help Toyota or Kia even more, given that some buyers don’t want a North American vehicle in their driveways at any price.

The Honda Odyssey has now taken two serious, recent quality hits: the Takata air-bag recall, and now a seat problem in older models that will cast a shadow over its re-launched 2018 model. Expect some kind of damage control ad campaign from Honda.

Chris Vander Doelen was Opinion Editor and columnist of The Windsor Star until December, 2016; he was the Star's automotive reporter and columnist for seven years, and had also covered the political and gambling beats. With his wife, Veronique Mandal, he wrote the book Chasing Lightning (1999). Chris won a National Newspaper Award in 1997 and more than a dozen provincial news awards. There is a Chrysler 300 in his driveway.

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