What can we do to actually help save the wagons?
This debate is revisited every time someone merely talks about station wagons or their tormentors, crossovers. If everyone works together, there could be a light at the end of the tunnel for the once-popular body style
We all know how things have gone so far. People have changed a lot over the past few years, so their needs in society have done the same. As a consequence, they don’t need cars the same way they used to. Just like gas-guzzling engines and some particular trim levels, the SW body style has been ostracized because its concept has lost appeal. But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done about it.
The latest reason why this topic was brought back to discussion comes from Volkswagen: while old plans made sure the eight-generation Golf was going to emerge without three-door and wagon versions, an official statement published last week says the latter will only have its production concentrated in Germany — the current model was also produced in Puebla, Mexico, for the Americas.
Good, but what else does that imply?
Based on how market demand has behaved, the Golf will be yet another model to have its wagon version offered mostly in Europe. It’s the same fate of Hyundai i30, Kia Ceed, Opel Astra, Peugeot 308 and Renault Mégane, just to name some. We all know Europeans have always liked them, but when an entire body style becomes popular in only one region, it’s time to rethink what we are doing.
First of all, let’s think of recent history. SWs were initially affected by minivans in the 2000s. Models such as the Citroën Xsara Picasso and the Dodge Caravan attracted families due to their huge cabins paired to reasonable external sizes. Later, crossovers took over for offering taller driving position, more attractive design and, in some cases, off-road capabilities and/or sporty performance.
Essentially, station wagons were ostracized because they ran out of reasons why people would buy them instead of any other body style. As a result, the very first step to take is to search for new, exclusive ways to make them appealing again. The old ones were already taken by those other body styles, so investing in them would only preserve the unnecessary internal competition we’re seeing today.
How would the new station wagon be?
In Europe, cheaper and compact models are usually utilitarian. They offer little visual distinction from the hatchback and sedan counterparts in order to reduce production and maintenance costs and work pretty much as an option with huge trunk room. The latest Škoda Fabia Combi is a good example of how small SWs can be modern and even stylish without abandoning their practical character.
The further we go towards the luxury market, the sportier SWs become. When it comes to performance, they’re pretty much sedans with added rear weight and aerodynamic flaws that can be easily minimized. That means they offer driving position and dynamic behavior which crossovers have a hard time to mimic and minivans don’t even try. Audi RS 6 and BMW M5 Touring are good references.
Breathtaking design and fancy cabin are things every car can offer; off-road gear works at its best when left to pick-up trucks and SUVs; and minimal price is just excessively difficult to put into practice as the top sales argument. What station wagons can use today as competitive edges in the global market is being urban automobiles which can pack cavernous cabins and/or impressive performance.
Aren’t those edges too limited?
They probably are but, if you come to think… What isn’t in the car world? In an industry constantly bounded by regulations of all kinds and in a market which asks for novelty so intensely and quickly that it seems to no longer know what exactly it wants? Station wagons have many limitations in nowadays, that’s true, but the way to make them survive in the market is using them in their favor.
So far, SWs that focus on space are cheap and ugly and the sporty ones tend to be unsuitable for daily use. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they could embrace both characteristics at once? While there are some production-related restrictions to respect, it’s possible to merge those two concepts of product image and create a new, more interesting one. How can that be done? By proper use of car design.
By applying technologies such as modular platform and engine downsizing and simply moving stuff around the cabin (like Honda did with the Fit’s fuel tank), the same external dimensions can yield more internal space than ever. Parallel to that, the clever use of visual solutions can deal with all problems: make the rational wagons more attractive and the high-performance ones also practical.
So the wagons can be saved, after all?
They surely can. Once two or three of these new models become successful, a new market niche will be created. It’ll be up to the makers to work with their image as a whole, not only those two competitive edges, in order to make them truly desirable. Like with other body styles, it’s likely that cheaper models will benefit from regional projects while luxury ones will require global products.
Though car fans urge automakers to bring back station wagons in general, they will only go ahead and buy them if they’re actually attractive to them. Strategies like the one outlined in this text try to adapt that body style’s characteristics to what the modern market wants. If properly executed, they can encourage those fans help save the wagons by doing much more than sharing a hashtag.