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I understand the names for various types of cars in the US as well as elsewhere, such as hatchback, sedan, SUV, etc. However there are two classes of vehicles that don't seem to fall under any of those categories. Please see these pictures and advise what they're referred to as in American English. Dialectical and colloquial terms are welcome because I am more interested in practical usage in the streets rather than what the dictionary mandates.

enter image description here enter image description here

In India, the vehicles shown in the two pictures above are just called "jeep" regardless of their brand or size. I could have called them SUVs but somehow I relate the term more with something like a Hummer or Toyota Fortuner.

Here's another class of vehicles:

enter image description here

Again, in India, these are simply known as vans regardless of their size. But I want to know if it's right to call them so. What would they be called in the US?

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    We also call the first category "jeeps". We call the second category "mini vans" (or, for particular shady-looking cases, "rape vans"). When mini vans are used as public or semi-public transport for short trips, as they are frequently in India, we call them shuttles or jitneys (analogous to boats which are ferries or tenders). – Dan Bron Nov 26 '14 at 17:34
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    The third picture could be called a mini-van or a conversion van, depending on the size and customization. Delivery van is also used if the vehicle has a company logo painted on it. – Kristina Lopez Nov 26 '14 at 17:41
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    I'm in NYC, which means my opinion is probably less representative of the country as a whole than Kevin's (we don't drive a lot in Manhattan, and very few of my friends owns a car). – Dan Bron Nov 26 '14 at 17:47
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    @Kristina, interesting, I've never heard the term "conversion can". Whence "conversion"? – Dan Bron Nov 26 '14 at 17:49
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    @DanBron My understanding is that it originally referred to cargo vans that were 'converted' for passenger (or other) usage, but was also applied to vehicles that were actually originally built with that in mind. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_van – Dusty Nov 26 '14 at 18:01
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As a counterpoint to Kevin, I have heard non-Jeep branded vehicles that are of the same 'format', called "jeeps" (and in fact, would have used that word myself for the top two images). I would not use SUV for the second image as I generally think of SUVs as more of a full-size enclosed vehicle (e.g. a Tahoe or Navagator), although it obviously is a "sports utility vehicle".

The third picture I agree is a van, although a very foreign looking one.

For reference, I'm from and currently reside in the Southeastern US, but have lived in the Midwest and Northeast.

  • Exactly my point regarding your idea of SUVs. I thought the same because to me it seemed funny to refer to the first two of them as SUVs even if that's what they technically are. – TheLearner Nov 26 '14 at 17:58
  • My brother-in-law would probably call the third one a "Euro-van", though I'm never quite certain what he means by that. I'd just call it a minivan. – Marthaª Nov 26 '14 at 22:32
  • @Marthaª I almost put that in there, as it's something I've heard as well. However, I googled it and apparently "Eurovan" is a specific van model, and I didn't want to open up another genericised trademark can of worms =D – Dusty Nov 26 '14 at 23:00
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You could call it a 4x4 (four by four), which literally means it is a four wheel drive vehicle, but typically that usage also implies a rugged build and off-road capabilities. You'll very rarely hear of a 4x4 SUV just called simply a 4x4, but people use that generic term for Jeeps and Suzukis all the time.

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The vehicle in the third photo has also been referred to as a "micro bus." I'm reminded of a popular 1970's song that mentioned a "VW micro bus" while describing American hippie culture.

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    I always called those VW machines "wagons". – Dan Bron Nov 26 '14 at 21:55
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    The Microbus was a specific (and iconic) model from Volkswagen, like this. I don't think you would call any other vehicle a microbus any more than you would call a non-VW car a beetle. – hobbs Nov 27 '14 at 3:17
  • A Google image search reveals that the third vehicle is a Suzuki Carry, manufactured in India and marketed as the Maruti Omni. However, its appearance is clearly very heavily based on the VW Type 3 van. Generically, you would call it a van, or possibly a microbus if configured purely as a passenger vehicle. – Erik Kowal Nov 27 '14 at 6:02
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For contrast, in Australia:

The first would be called a 4WD (four wheel drive), as is it full sized, long wheel-base, enclosed, 4 doors (although the last point is not strictly necessary). It may be called a Jeep only in reference to its actual brand.

The second would often be just called a jeep, as it is open-top, short wheel based (not necessarily a Jeep brand). But it would not be unusual to also call it a 4WD.

The last one would be called a van. If it only had passenger seats, it may also be called a people mover, although they tend to be comfortable designed-for-people vehicles (e.g. a Toyota Tarago), not vans re-purposed as passenger vehicles.

  • Is "kombi" considered an old-fashioned term now? – tobyink Nov 27 '14 at 11:23
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    I'm a middle-aged Aussie and only ever knew "kombi" to be used for VW vans, whether they were the versions for carrying people or the ones for carrying cargo. – hippietrail Nov 27 '14 at 12:50
  • Interestingly for some time in Australia, "Toyota" had the Hoover-effect for any 4x4 vaguely like a Landcruiser or Forerunner. – Fattie Nov 11 '16 at 18:15
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tl;dr:

1 & 2: "Jeep" or "off-brand Jeep"

3: "microvan" or "tiny van"

The places I've lived or worked in the US (Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Colorado, Hawaii) I think everyone would understand what you mean by "Jeep" for the first two, especially if you called them "off-brand Jeep" or whatever. The imagery is at least as important as the maker -- few people call the Cherokee a "Jeep" without calling it a "Jeep Cherokee", but plenty of folks refer to other maker vehicles that adhere to the classic Jeep style as "Jeeps".

The third picture I've always heard called a "micro-van" or just "a tiny van". You won't find that particular style of van in the US (Japanese "kei" vehicle styles are not sold there), so if you don't want to confuse it with a family "minivan" or much larger 12-pax "van" (like a company van, which is the image most folks would have pop into their heads) you would need to modify it with "micro" or describe it with "tiny" as an adjective. (Americans are generally not familiar with the term "kei van", either.)

  • Thanks for the exhaustive answer. I wasn't familiar with the term "kei van" either. ;) – TheLearner Nov 27 '14 at 6:22
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    @AmitSchandillia Sort of weird, but I found a history page on the kei vehicle style: mjs.home.xs4all.nl/cabover.html – zxq9 Nov 27 '14 at 7:35
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    As ZX critically points out, @TheLearner - there simply are no other vehicles that are "like" a jeep wrangler paradigm, in the US - so it's just called a Jeep. Wrangler-like Jeeps are indeed just called "Jeeps" - never 4x4s or SUVs (those are different). The closest thing is the small jeep-like Suzuki and it's never called a Jeep. Your first image would indeed be called a "Jeep copy" or "off-brand Jeep". – Fattie Nov 11 '16 at 18:19
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    In the US the very rare open Land Rover would be called "Lara Croft's car" or just "an open Land Rover". There is no "Hoover effect" for Jeep in the US; which is the core of the question. (Just as you say, there's "Hoover-effect" for "jeep" in India.) – Fattie Nov 11 '16 at 18:20
  • @JoeBlow As a side note on the Suzuki that looks like a mini-Jeep -- in the US I believe this is marketed as the "Samurai" series. Here in Japan it is part of a large line of lightweight off-road vehicles called Jimny. – zxq9 Nov 13 '16 at 4:57

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