New Toyota minivan makes it easier to yell at kids
Toyota Motor Corp.'s Sienna sits on display at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. Toyota Motor Corp., recalling more than 8 million cars worldwide, may lose more than 1 percentage point of U.S. market share in 2010, Edmunds.com said. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 2: Toyota debuts its new Sienna mini-vans during press preview days of the 2009 LA Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center on December 2, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Auto makers are expected to unveil at least 40 North American, concept and world debuts at this year's show. The LA Auto Show will be open to the public December 4 through December 13. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
DETROIT - JANUARY 6: Don Esmond, general manager at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., shows off the new Sienna during a press conference at the North America International Auto Show January 6, 2003 in Detroit. Esmond announced the starting price for the new Sienna will be about $1,000 less than the price for the current model. (Photo by Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images)
In this photo made Aug. 5, 2010, a 2011 Toyota Sienna LE minivan sits in the lot at Kendall Toyota in Miami. The new breed of minivans is more angular, with sloping rooflines, lower profiles and a tougher road presence. The 2011 Toyota Sienna hugs the ground lower than its predecessor. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
This undated image made available by Toyota shows the 2011-2014 Toyota Sienna Limited. (AP Photo/Toyota, David Dewhurst)
DETROIT (AP) - Toyota wants to help you scream at your unruly kids.
The latest version of the company's Sienna minivan has a feature called "Driver Easy Speak." It uses a built-in microphone to amplify a parent's voice through speakers in the back seats.
Toyota says it added Easy Speak "so parents don't have to shout to passengers in the back." But chances are many parents will yell into the microphone anyway.
And the feature only works one way, so the kids can't talk back. At least not with amplified voices.
The feature is an option on the 2015 Sienna, which is being refreshed with a totally new interior. It also has an optional "pull-down conversation mirror" that lets drivers check on kids without turning around.
Automakers are trying to come up with creative ways to make the out-of-fashion minivan more appealing, said Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at the Edmunds.com automotive website. Last year Honda unveiled a vacuum cleaner built into the back of its revamped Odyssey minivan that got a lot of attention.
Such features are important because there's little automakers can do to make the practical but bland vans more stylish, Caldwell said.
"I think they're on the right lines of trying to find these features that people are going to talk about," she said.
Minivan sales peaked at 1.37 million in 2000, but fell as low as 415,000 in 2009, when auto sales bottomed during the Great Recession. Sales have risen as the market rebounded, and last year people bought just under 519,000 of the vans. But Caldwell said the minivan share of the market now is holding steady at 3.4 percent, less than half the share from peak years.
Some new products are entering the minivan market despite its decline. Ford is rolling out a new family hauler based on the Transit Connect small commercial van and Chrysler is working on a revamp of its Town & Country minivan.
Toyota is unveiling the new Sienna mainly through social media and at a Baltimore arts festival this weekend. It's due to hit showrooms in the fall.
"Driver Easy Speak" is available only on vans equipped with Toyota's Entune premium audio systems. Prices of the van and the voice feature were not announced.