The Automotive Amanojaku

This is where you'll find news, random car-related thoughts and personal views from a rabid car nut. "Amanojaku" is Japanese slang that means "person who is deliberately contradictory". I've always found myself drawn to the less appreciated car makes - the "underdogs" if you will. Suzuki, Pontiac, GM Daewoo and Holden, are among my favorite brands to watch and comment on. Let me hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Conspiracy Theory of the Day: Wagons hurt SUV & Crossover Sales...So Kill the Wagon!




Is there a conspiracy to eliminate the affordable Station Wagon from the U.S. market, or is it just a market trend? Soon the Ford Focus Wagon is set to disappear, as well as the Malibu Maxx. The traditional Station Wagon is an endangered species. Aside from the Dodge Magnum and the wagons in some Luxury brands, the wagon is on the decline, and the inexpensive sedan-based 4-cylinder station wagon is nearly extinct.

Looking at the lack of standard sedan-based wagons like the Suzuki Forenza in the U.S. market I've come to a wacky conclusion. It's not that they're so horribly unpopular. It's about automotive executives who've decided not to invest in building and selling (or advertising) attractive wagons because for each wagon sold they lose a more profitable SUV or Crossover sale.

Wagons generally sell for only $1000 more than the sedans they are based on, while a crossover or "cute-ute" can cost several thousand more. But despite the jacked up stance, is a 2WD Mitsubishi Outlander, for instance, really all that more off-road capable than a wagon version of a similarly sized Mitsubishi car? I think not.

And what of the comparitive cost of developing all-new sheetmetal and a new interior for a crossover as opposed to designing a wagon rear end and grafting it onto a sedan? Surely the R&D costs for the Cute Ute far exceed the cost of making a wagon version of your existing sedan.

So the conclusion I am drawn to is that Wagons in the end must not be as profitable an addition to an automaker's line up as a crossover car-based SUV, XUV, CUV or whatever.

Instead, automakers will make more money by herding us into vehicles with similar utility, that cost more since they look rugged and sit up an inch or two higher than a traditional wagon. If fuel economy and ride quality suffer a bit? Don't feel bad, because now you're driving a "tough" Crossover SUV!

The Dodge Magnum breaks the mold because it is a macho-looking RWD Hemi-powered monster of a wagon (in its highest trim level). But the lowly inexpensive wagon is left in the dustbin of history as Crossover SUV's take over.

One ray of hope - again from DaimlerChrysler: The Jeep Patriot and Compass. While neither is a true "wagon" in the traditional sense of the word, the Patriot at least is a 4-cylinder powered vehicle with wagon like utility, and in 2WD is very fuel efficient and not so expensive.

And the Chevrolet HHR, while classified as a Truck, is really a kind of Cobalt Wagon in disguise.

But my question remains: Is offering inexpensive wagon variants of existing sedans something that automotive executives - the gray hairs at the top - frown upon since for every wagon sold, you've lost a potential SUV sale? I think it certainly is a factor, if not the wide conspiracy I've made it to be.

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