Minivan is a type of van designed for personal use. Minivans are typically either two-box or one box designs for maximum interior volume – and are taller than a sedan, hatchback, or a station wagon. Worldwide, minivans are also marketed as multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), people-carriers, people-movers, or multi-utility vehicles (MUVs). In Europe and India, "multi-purpose vehicle" (MPV) describes the general vehicle type without reference to its size. These are described with a word before the acronym: a "mini MPV" is derived from a supermini, a "compact MPV" is based on a small family car and a "large MPV" has about the same size as a large family car. In Asia, "multi-utility vehicle" (MUV) has more or less the same meaning as MPV. "People-carrier" and "people mover" describe both large MPVs and minibuses, but not smaller models.
Antecedents to the contemporary minivan include the Stout Scarab, which in 1936 featured a removable table and second row seats that turn 180 degrees to face the rear – a feature that Chrysler marketed as Swivel 'n Go.
The DKW Schnellaster, manufactured from 1949 to 1962 was a small monospace (or one-box) design featuring its front wheels set forward of the passenger cabin, a short, sloping aerodynamic hood, front wheel drive, transverse engine, flat load floor throughout with flexible seating and cargo accommodations – the key design ingredients that describe the modern minivan configuration popularized in such notable examples as the Renault Espace and Chrysler Voyager/Caravan minivans. This approach was also used, albeit on a much smaller implementation, as the Honda Life StepVan in 1974.
Other predecessors of minivans were compact vans. In 1950, the Volkswagen Type 2 adapted a bus-shaped body to the compact Volkswagen Beetle. It placed the driver above the front wheels, sitting behind a flat nose, with the engine mounted at the rear. This approach to the driver being placed on top of the front axle is known as a "cab over". The two hinged side doors were opposite to the driver's side, with optional doors on the driver's side, Fiat built a similar vehicle, Multipla based on the Fiat 600 with the same "cab over" engine and door layout. Japanese and American manufacturers responded with compact vans since the 1960s. Usually based on front-engined compact cars with a FMR layout, the engine was mounted behind or under the front seat with a flat, vertical nose. Examples include the Ford Econoline, Chevrolet Van, Suzuki Carry, Toyota Hiace,and Subaru Sambar. When Volkswagen introduced a sliding side door on their van in 1968, it then had all the features that would later come to define a minivan: compact length, three rows of forward-facing seats, station wagon-style top-hinged tailgate/liftgate, sliding side door, passenger car base.