Station Wagons | My Black Brick

My Black Brick

Keeping a '92 Volvo 240 Wagon on the Road & Other Automotive & DIY Musings

“Automotive Darwinism” Killed the Wagon?

Volvo announced in January that they will discontinue the V50 in the US. In writing about the death of the last Volvo station wagon, CNN Money’s Alex Taylor III posted an odd article reminiscing about his youth in the suburbs of the 1950s while positing that the death of wagons in the US was pretty much inevitable.

His description of the wagons of the 1960s seems to place all of the problems with American cars on the shoulders of station wagons:

American buyers first turned away from station wagons during the 1973 oil crisis. Their extreme length, emphasized by long rear overhangs to accommodate a third seat, made them natural targets.

Sorry, but almost all American cars were lengthy and heavy boats back then, not just wagons. There is nothing intrinsic to the wagon platform that says it needs to be the length of an aircraft carrier. That’s just what Detroit was making at the time.

He then speaks of the rise of the SUV as if it was a rational change for American buyers, while completely overlooking the fact that they have the same problems of poor fuel economy and extreme length that the cars of the 60’s did. He claims that they are “far more utilitarian” than wagons and offered “a lot more cargo space.”

There are many, often irrational, reasons Americans moved to SUVs, but the idea that wagons have less utility is ridiculous. I’ve got more space in the back of my brick than my buddy has in his Nissan Pathfinder. Yes, SUVs have 4-wheel drive, but that only contributes to their poor gas mileage and most drivers don’t need it anyway. AWD anyone?

As for Volvo, he sees their reputation for reliability as a problem, rather than a benefit:

Volvo probably did itself a disservice by running testimonials from owners who drove their Volvos for years and years. When you put a million miles or more on a car, it limits the opportunity for repeat business.

Yes, automakers shouldn’t tout longevity as an asset. They should just make cars that fall apart in 6 years so they can sell a new one. That’s what Detroit did, right? We can see how well that did for them.

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NYT asks: What’s Become of the Wagon?

audi-q5Lawrence Ulrich, the self described “pro-wagon” auto critic for the NY Times, spends almost a third of his Audi Q5 review today analyzing the state of the American station wagon:

There’s no longer any debate or any doubt: Americans hate station wagons. Deep down, they still love and want their S.U.V.’s, even if most of these are now marketed as crossovers, a politically soothing yet increasingly pointless distinction.

Car companies foreign and domestic have learned that the best way to stumble in this market is to design and market a station wagon, no matter how practical, sporty or affordable. (Make an exception for Subaru and its wagon fanatics.) The best way to succeed is to offer a decadent, overweight would-be S.U.V. that looks bulky and capable but is mostly used for mall reconnaissance; even a weekend trip with two parents and two children can overwhelm the cargo-carrying ability of the typical downsized, do-little luxury crossover.

He pulls out the sales figures for European wagons to prove it:

Audi sold nearly 21,000 of its big Q7 crossover in 2007, compared with barely 2,800 of its sprightly A4 Avant wagon and just 758 of the larger A6 wagon.

…the BMW X3 crossover outsold the hotter-performing, higher-mileage 3 Series wagon by better than 10 to 1.

…Even Volvo’s wagon sales were halved when it introduced its XC90 crossover.

In stating that “The Dodge Magnum and Mazda 6 wagon are two recent examples of conventional wagons that critics loved and consumers rejected,” he highlights an American phenomenon I find difficult to understand.

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