How did this happen? Let’s back it up a bit.
In the Philippines, there was a class of vehicles called AUVs, or Asian Utility Vehicles. Descended from the Jeepney, the best way I can describe it are body-on-frame MPVs. Tough, designed for carrying many people, and but not for offroading like an SUV. Examples include the Toyota Tamaraw, Isuzu Crosswind, and the Mitsubishi Adventure.
The layout of all these are the same, the first two rows can seat 3 people each, and than opposing facing jump seats in the back for another 4 people, leading to enough space for 10 people.
From 2001 to 2005, GM offered special 10 seater versions of the Chevrolet Venture to the Philippines (Well more specifically the Filipino Ventures were exported and rebadged Buick GL8s, the Chinese version of the U-body minivan), in a bananas 3+4+3 layout! Being a 10 seater made it eligible for it to be considered an AUV, and commercial vehicle by the government, which were subject to no excise tax, and that was the loophole Honda was going to implement.
But the Venture is already a spacious minivan, how did Honda Philippines somehow double the seating capacity of the 2nd gen Honda CR-V, which wasn’t even available with a third row?
Well they accomplished that by adding one, and boy is it flimsy looking. I couldn’t find any decent images from the front, but it’s a bench in the literal sense of the word. Like the jump seats, there are no headrests, no seatbelts, no contouring for your back, just flatness. Being an afterthought, it just folds against the 2nd row when not in use, but at least it’s easily removable. And being a 10 seater, that rear bench technically has capacity for 3 people. Oh no.
Like the others, they get a bench seat upfront, CR-Vs have like a tiny table where the centre console would be, so it was a simple addition. But look at that middle row. There are four seatbelt buckles highlighted. Honda added 2 additional lapbelts, in conjunction with the regular 3 point belts, added and moved the buckles and called it a day. Yep, it totally seats 4 now! That is astounding, how did GM put more effort into this than Honda? What if you’re taking just 4 people on a trip? The back seat passengers either have to sit on only half of the seat, or use the buckle in the middle, and have a seatbelt up your arse! Congratulations Honda, you made a 10 seater with only 2 comfortable seats!
I actually once had to travel with 3 other people stuffed in the back seat of this gen CR-V for an hour long trip both ways, and it was about as uncomfortable as you’d expect. I remember wishing at the time if only there was another seat at the front like the Honda FR-V, and I never would’ve thought that not only Honda actually did that, but also that sitting like that was the intended way in one region!
Being now classified as an AUV meant that it was 20% cheaper than the previous generation, and actually became the best selling vehicle in the country. But presumably in response to Honda’s shenanigans, AUVs were no longer subject to tax breaks in 2003, a year after the CR-V was launched in the Philippines, which pretty much signalled the start of the end for the segment, but that didn’t stop Honda with this seating nonsense.
Hilariously, they offered a removable third row for the 3rd gen CR-V as an accessory, which like the previous one, had no seatbelts, headrests or comfort. It took until the 4th gen CR-V to be available with a properly designed third row, and available worldwide.
So AUVs are essentially dead, in 2017, both the Isuzu Crosswind and the Mitsubishi Adventure were discontinued without proper replacements. Back in 2004, the Toyota Tamaraw FX Revo was succeeded by the Toyota Innova, which is also body-on-frame, so that could be considered the last remaining AUV, but it only seats up to 8. But the seat stuffing didn’t stop, they just moved.
Turns out, if a vehicle seats more than 10 people in Thailand, it too is subject to no excise tax, leading to several companies (All Korean for some reason) to take advantage of this. Although instead of jump seats or 4 people wide benches, they just squeeze in another row of seats! In Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, Kia offers an 11 seater version of their Grand Carnival minivan (Americans know it as the Kia Sedona).
...and both generations of the Ssangyong Rodius could be had with 11 seats. Apparently they thought this one is safe enough to be sold outside emerging markets, as it could also be had in it’s home market of South Korea.
Hyundai’s Grand Starex/H-1 also comes in a 4 row variant (which is also available in South Korea). Being based on an actual cargo van, this seems alot less impressive, but 4 rows is still practically unheard of for a van it’s size. And, being a van, it comes with a front bench seat, meaning it’s a 12 seater!
So that’s it, the art of stuffing in way too many seats into vehicles never designed for it so you can abuse tax regulations in Southeast Asian countries.