Despite the soccer mom image, Americans who own them love their minivans. But in part because of a lack of available models and the attack of the crossovers, they’re just not buying all that many of them. The situations could change, though, because a flood of minivan introductions is on the way.

The good news is an image makeover: Thanks to Toyota, there's nothing to be ashamed off — your minivan is now a "swagger wagon." Don't believe me? Watch this video:

It makes sense that a minivan renaissance is coming, because the format is inherently practical for families — and SUV fever is cooling markedly. When consumers grit their teeth and bow to the inevitable, their appreciation grows — form follows function. A new online survey from Honk, a social marketing site for car consumers, finds that 86.1 percent of respondents “reported that they are in love with their minivans” and declare that “the vehicle changed their lives.” Many of these folks say they bought the minivan reluctantly.

Minivan sales have dropped precipitously in the U.S., from a 2000 high of 1.25 million (when the category accounted for 7.2 percent of industry sales) to a 2009 low of 415,000 (4 percent of sales), reports J.D. Power and Associates. The category didn’t even formally exist until 1983, when Chrysler brought out the first of a series of hugely successful family vans. Other automakers followed, and soon the field was crowded. But with the arrival of the first mass-market SUVs from Jeep in the late 1980s, the minivan’s image began to suffer.

As the New York Times reports, automakers began to abandon the field — Ford stopped making minivans in 2006 and GM in 2008. Hyundai jettisoned its Entourage last year. But Toyota is fielding a new and much improved Sienna, and Honda a redesigned Odyssey. Nissan is also producing a new version of the Quest. Chrysler is updating its vans later in 2010.

Minivans could be poised for a revival, as consumers let their image issues be trumped by concern for fuel economy and starting-a-family practicality. “I wanted an SUV,” said a Honk respondent. “Then I hit a button, the side door opened, and I very easily put the infant carrier into the seat … SOLD!” The virtues of sliding doors, as well as the rear-seat entertainment options to calm fighting siblings, were mentioned by many in the survey. Another minivan owner added, “I always used to say I would never drive a minivan. Then I had two kids and needed the extra space…. I love my minivan and am very proud of it.”

Proud of it! How many people can say that about their car? In the survey, 87.6 percent of respondents said they were “amazed at the functionality and felt their minivan made life easier.” They’ll probably buy at least one more (while the kids are still in car seats), and that’s why automakers are cautiously putting their toes back into the water.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Swagger wagon: New minivans have soccer moms singing praises
The humble minivan has been getting dissed for years, but families love the practicality -- and they'd buy another one, according to a new survey. Next up? Swee