Commentary: Wagons, Ho!

2019 Volvo V60 T6 AWD Inscription
All Photos by Randy Stern

Here is a little factoid from last year’s 17.2 million vehicles sold in the USA: wagons experienced a 29% jump in sales growth in 2018 compared to 2017.

The car-based vehicles with the long-roofs that were thought to be extinct compared to the SUV are coming back. Their numbers are growing not because of consumer guilt or a sense of nostalgia.

It is because of the SUV and crossover.

Wagons were once the primary transport of families in this country. They held a special place in Americana, as well as in their respective suburban driveways. We revered them, as we do the SUV/crossover today.

They came with named that evoked that sense of family adventure. To run the Interstate in a Country Squire, an Estate Wagon, a Colony Park, a Town & Country, a Kingswood…and so on. Station wagons were upmarket items that were beyond practical, powerful, and capable. They embodied the American Dream.

Even after the demise of the land yacht in the 1970s, wagons still held sway among some customers. Volvo had one of the best lineups of long roof models in the 200 and 700 series. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi showed upmarket American consumers that the Germans can still evoke the American Dream on a more concentrated scale. You can still get the traditional big station wagon from Ford, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, Mercury, and Oldsmobile dealerships.

Today, we see wagons as just a small niche in the automotive universe. In 2018, only 212,000 wagons found their way to their happy customers. Yet, this is only just two percent of the overall automobile market.

That two percent of total automotive sales promise held sway in what could be a backlash against the proliferation of the SUV/crossover. Or, at least that are what the manufacturers who sell them continue to hope for – even as the projected annual automotive sales target for 2019 has slipped under 17 million.

Consider what is driving the renaissance of the wagon. If you actually classify the Subaru Outback as a wagon – as it is a wagon derivation of the Legacy sedan that is hopped up and cladded with plastic – you can point to this vehicle as the main driver of the wagon’s return to consumer favor. You also have strong showings by the likes of the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen and Alltrack – both of which have helped the brand continue its sales growth in the USA for the past couple of years.

Subaru and Volkswagen are not the only ones playing in the wagon space. Buick’s Regal TourX may not be the Estate Wagon we wanted, but it serves a point for those with active lifestyles and a bit more money to play with over Outback customers. For even more money, the Audi Allroad takes an A4 Avant and adds rugged goodies with its patented and strong quattro all-wheel-drive system. Volvo’s V90 won #VOTY17 by the fact that, yes, upper income Americans miss their old boxy 740 wagons.

Awarding #VOTY17 #Back2BackVOTY

Think about that last entry – a wagon won a #VOTY! Not an SUV or a pickup truck…but a wagon! Ponder that thought for a moment.

Continuing on, Volvo just introduced the V60 wagon for 2019. They are coming shortly to a showroom near you. Mercedes-Benz still offers a couple of E-Class wagons. The AMG wagon is the outlier of the two, as there are quite a number of enthusiasts who would like something as compelling as a high-performance wagon. You can still get a F31 BMW 3-Series Sports Wagon while the new G20 sedan are arriving into showrooms. Plus, Jaguar has the XF Sportbrake – which one of the most compelling wagons in the market.

Only seven brands sell honest-to-God station wagons these days. All to the tune of just two percent of all automotive sales.

And, yet, the enthusiasts want more. Sadly, the automotive industry has been fixated on SUVs and crossovers to point to enthusiasts that these are what they will offer them. The enthusiast mind does not want an SUV or a crossover. They want the real thing.

Of course, they can go to Europe where they are still popular with families. They can go to Japan, where wagons are used as commercial vehicles. They can also scour the classic car market for one from a bygone era.

Nothing is fair when it comes to capitalism. The station wagon is no longer that commodity that can rake in the money for an automaker. But, what if they can reverse the trend by introducing new wagons for families who do not want a SUV or crossover?

Then again, automakers have either made the decision to pull sedan models in favor of SUVs and crossovers or are mulling over doing so. The tie-in for wagon is a sedan, as seen in most instances. Eliminate a sedan, then forget about a wagon variant – all for the sake of sales of SUVs and crossovers.

Personally, I disagree with this logic. Should I blame it squarely with the consumer, as they have driven the proliferation pf the SUV/crossover? Not if I want to lose readership…

Enthusiasts want wagons. They also want manual transmissions. A few ears inside management row are listening. Not everyone is buying. Just only two percent of the 17.2 million new vehicles sold in the USA in 2018.

I’m listening. I’m nodding. I wish I had the power to wave a magic wand and bring more wagons to the market. Maybe they can come back the same way as the Subaru Outback, Buick Regal TourX, and Volkswagen Golf Alltrack? Maybe that will solve the backlash against the SUV/crossover?

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