CHICAGO – The new Honda Odyssey debuting this fall will be able to accommodate three car seats in its second row, a company official says here at the auto show.

Previously the Odyssey’s second row could fit only two car seats.

“The current Odyssey, you can’t fit three car seats across the second row – they just don’t fit,” Vicki Poponi, senior manager-product planning-American Honda Motor Co. Inc., says, pointing to the new model’s wider, more aerodynamic shape that creates extra space and improves legroom.

While the ability to fit three car seats in the second row may seem trivial, Poponi says Honda customers have come to appreciate the vehicle’s functionality.

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The Odyssey has been the No.1 selling minivan in the U.S. for the past two years, Ward’s data shows.

“One of the things about the minivan, especially the Odyssey, is once you have children and start using that functionality, you’re addicted to it. It makes life so much easier.”

Poponi says Honda’s research suggests younger, Generation Y buyers are embracing minivans similar to the way their parents once did.

Minivan sales have been depressed because of a lull between Baby Boomers’ children growing up and moving out and Gen Ys having kids, she suggests.

But now “about a third of (the) Gen Y (demographic) already have children,” she says. “I was surprised by that factoid.”

Unlike the new ’11 Toyota Sienna, the Odyssey won’t have a sport variant, Poponi says, believing the Honda already provides a dynamic driving experience.

The Sienna boasts a 4-cyl. as well as a V-6 engine, but a V-6 will continue to be offered as standard on Odyssey.

“We believe with a V-6 we can give people the fuel economy they need,” she says. “Because this vehicle is used to carry people and cargo the customers really need, the V-6 (is required) to feel confident on the road.”

Honda is calling for an eye-raising highway fuel-economy figure of 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) in certain ’11 Odyssey models. Poponi says the figure is due to a mix of improvements in aerodynamics and to Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management cylinder deactivation technology, among other things.

She won’t say if part of the fuel-economy increase is due to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Currently, the Odyssey has a 5-speed automatic as its only transmission.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com