Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Station Wagon Renaissance


Alexander Carabitses

The other day I read that Jaguar plans on bringing its upcoming XF station wagon to the US next year.  It was at this point that I decided that I would do a quick editorial on the state of the station wagon market in the US, but an Automobile Magazine editor had a similar idea.  However, his article was simply a rant about why he hates those body cladded wagons that automakers are trotting out in an act of desperation.  Well, after reading I just have to weigh in with my opinion, while also doing what I originally planned, so let's begin.

The demise of the station wagon slowly began in the 1980s when Chrysler launched the first generation mini van, which was meant to offer more practicality.  Then along came SUVs and those venerable crossovers that people seem to flip for these days.  So how's the station wagon market holding up? Well, there are currently only 3 traditional station wagons available to US customers: the Volvo V60, the BMW 3 series Touring, and the Mercedes E-Class Wagon.  That's it.  Pretty sad when you think about it, but in the mid 2000s, automakers sponged out the station wagons in their portfolios, with Ford/Mercury serving as a prime example.  Sadly even Volvo, a brand that perhaps is best known for their wagons (aside from safety and AWD, of course) slowly, but surely killed off all of its wagons, one by one.  The V50 and V70 both got the axe, while fellow Swedish car maker, Saab went out of business before their 9-5 Aero wagon had the chance to break any ground in the US.  The two most recent failures in the wagon market are the Acura TSX Sport Wagon and the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, both of which were killed in 2013-2014.
(Image credited to Volvo)
(Image credited to BMW)



So it is clear that US consumers hate wagons for some reason.  Instead, they love crossovers with a passion, so automakers decided that in order to keep selling wagons in the US, they needed to turn them into crossovers; along came the body cladded, AWD, high ground clearance station wagons.  The Audi A4 Avant was dropped in favor of the A4 Allroad, the Volvo V70 was replaced with the XC70, with Volvo eventually launching the V60 Cross Country.  Finally, there's the Subaru Legacy wagon, which was dropped altogether in favor of the more successful Legacy Outback wagon, which is now simply known as the Outback.  
(Image credited to Audi)
(Image credited to Subaru)
(Image credited to Volvo)


In my mind these wagons that get harped on for their odd driving character and poor looks, bring the station wagon to its logical conclusion.  There is no way in hell that traditional station wagons (i.e. the oldest form of family utility vehicle) can survive in a market that they shares with all three of their successors.  The solution is "If you can't beat them, join them", and that's exactly what everyone has done, and to a decent amount of success I might add.  The trend has even carried over to Europe with the new E-Class All Terrain, which we will possibly get;  Volvo's new V90 Cross Country is going on sale there as well.
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Volvo)


Despite what may seem like a slow and painful death of the traditional wagon, there are a few glimmers of hope.  Volkswagen has also redesigned the Golf Sport Wagon and introduced the Alltrack to compliment it. Although Volvo plans on selling the new V90 Cross Country here in the States, the regular V90 is also going on sale in early 2017.  The new Mercedes E-Class Wagon is also going on sale this winter, which is great news given that you don't see many of those around.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Jaguar also plans on bringing the next XF Sportbrake to the US.  Finally, it is heavily rumored that Buick will bring a wagon version of the next-gen Regal to the states, called the TourX, although judging by the name, it could end up being nothing more than a body cladded wagon itself. The failure of the CTS wagon could also be factor in this product decision.
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Volvo)
(Image credited to Volkswagen)
(Image credited to Volkswagen)


While this is great news, by no means is the station wagon market back.  Keep in mind, with the exception of the VW duo, all of these are luxury vehicles, and all of them are midsize.  Also bare in mind that BMW has said that it may not bring the next 3 series Touring to the states amid slow sales, and this is coming from a brand that had two wagons on sale in the US six years ago.  However, judging by the stream of wagons that we are seeing, it is very likely that each automotive conglomerate plans on selling one wagon as a means of having a safety net in case a customer comes along looking for one.  Unfortunately, only hard core enthusiasts and journalists still appreciate wagons, and for this reason, the "Station Wagon Renaissance" that we are seeing could be the equivalent of the electric car renaissance of the 1970s- the one that nobody remembers.  None the less, it will be great to have more station wagons in the US market, and seeing as how things are cyclical, maybe one day station wagons will become the preferable family vehicle of choice again.

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