Wagon, variant, avant, combi, sportwagen, touring, estate, and shooting brake, these words refer to a particular body style that has been on a gradual demise on the American roads for the past six years.
As recent as 2008, many auto manufacturers, both domestic and imports, offered at least one wagon in their North American product portfolio Some great wagons that come to mind included Acura TSX Wagon, Audi A4 and A6 Avants, BMW 3 and 5 Series Touring, Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, Cadillac CTS wagon, Dodge Magnum, Ford Taurus Wagon, Jaguar X-Type Estate, Mazda 6 Wagon, Mercedes-Benz C and E Class wagons, Mercury Sable wagon, Saab 9-3 and 9-5 combi, Subaru Legacy Wagon, Volvo V50, and V70 and Volkswagen Jetta and Passat Variants. Some of these wagons were also available in high-performance versions as well to satisfy the needs of the family minded automobile enthusiasts.
Fast forward to today and only a handful of these wagons are still available for American consumption. As of this writing, the wagons that are currently available include BMW 3 Series Touring, Mercedes-Benz E Class wagon, Volvo V60 and Volkswagen Golf (previously the Jetta) Sportwagen. So, what is the reason behind this drastic decline in the amount of wagons offered by car makers in the U.S.? The answer is very simple, American consumers favored crossovers and compact sport utilities over wagons and the market segment was not large enough for many automakers to justify the cost associated with federalizing and importing wagons from Europe. As an additional note, General Motors shutdown Saab while it was restructuring and recovering from its bankruptcy in 2008.
So, what about the domestic manufacturers? Well, the answer to this question is a bit long, but I will do my best to explain it anyways. After General Motors completed the production cycle of the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, GM decided to reintroduce the wagon body style in 2010, but this time around, it was with their flagship brand, in the form of Cadillac CTS wagon. Compared to the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, the CTS wagon was better built, designed and equipped. This enabled GM to sell more CTS wagons during its production run from 2010-14 compared to the Malibu Maxx. But, in
2012, General Motors announced that the next generation of the CTS will be dropping the wagon body style and will continue with a sedan and a coupé body style. When the final CTS wagon rolled of the production line, GM closed the book and bowed out of the wagon segment in the U.S.
Chrysler, through its Dodge brand manufactured the performance oriented Dodge Magnum. The Magnum was based on the Dodge Charger and in Europe, Chrysler offered a 300 Touring, which was basically a Magnum wearing the Chrysler 300’s front nose clip. The Magnum was offered with a range of engines and drive trains in the U.S. The base Magnum had a 2.7 L V6 mated to an antiquated four-speed automatic and sent the power to the rear wheels, all wheel drive was available as an option. The mid-level trim offered a 5.7 L HEMI V8 with a lethargic 5-speed automatic and the top of the range SRT offered a 6.1 L HEMI with the same lethargic 5-speed automatic and was only available with rear wheel drive. Even with all this performance potential, the Magnum failed to gather a large enough following for Dodge to consider continuing the production of the Magnum. During its production cycle, the Magnum received a minor mid-cycle refresh which included a new front end, higher end interior and few other creature comforts. But, these changes were not significant enough to elevate its status among the American consumers. Due to lackluster sales performance between 2005-2008, Chrysler pulled the plug on Dodge Magnum’s production and quietly left the American wagon market segment.
When compared to GM and Chrysler’s wagon sales, Ford had better sales results with the Taurus and its cousin, Mercury Sable wagon. The two wagons began production in the mid 1980s and were in production till 2007, when Ford phased them out of their product portfolio. Later, Ford shutdown the Mercury brand due to redundancy and because it was no required to slot between the lower end Ford and the higher end Lincoln brand. Ford would later reintroduce the Taurus moniker, but this time around, it was exclusively manufactured as a sedan. As more Americans desired crossovers over wagons, Ford shifted its production effort towards its crossover models and by catering to the new demand, Ford also left the wagon market in the U.S.
Due to the ever-growing demand for crossovers and sport utility vehicles, many European automakers are opting to import more of their crossovers to the U.S. while the domestic manufacturers find it more profitable to produce crossovers instead of wagons. But, this does not mean that there is no future for the wagon body style in the U.S. Many manufacturers realize that there are still many Americans who prefer to own a wagon instead of a crossover or a SUV and because of this reason, they continue to import and sell limited quantity of wagons per year in the U.S.
The future is not be bright for the wagons in the U.S. now, but as we cycle through the automobile trends, the wagon might once again become a popular body style as they were almost a decade ago. With this shift in the cycle, we might be able to reverse the current trend of the gradual demise of wagons on the U.S. roads.
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