By on March 7, 2011

Niche vehicles are possibly the toughest task for automotive product planners, offering huge risks and often modest rewards. Many, like the Acura ZDX and Chevy SSR fall flat on their faces, often for very different reasons. A few, like the Lexus RX300 launch entire segments from which future niches will eventually grow. Others, like the Nissan Juke, simply sell in reasonable numbers to the people who like them while turning off most everyone else. But one thing is for certain: in an era when mass-market sedans and crossovers look increasingly alike, a good niche product is one of the few real brand differentiators, a rolling symbol of a brand’s identity and values. And with common platforms and components, certain kinds of niche vehicles are even becoming easier to build. But there’s one very small, very postmodern problem: it’s all been done. When you’ve tried convertible crossovers, four-door-coupe-crossovers, five-door-coupe-wagons, pickup roadsters and minivan coupes, where’s an industry to go next? Time to break out your thick-rimmed designer glasses and explain just what form of nonsense the industry should try now.

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77 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: What’s The Next Big Niche?...”


  • avatar
    Philosophil

    I think it’s the compact SUV/CUV/Crossover as represented by the Juke. I think this will be a big segment for ‘baby boomers’ who want a smaller vehicle that’s reasonable on gas, easy to drive, park etc., and has enough height to make ingress/egress easier for those with chronic backs and restricted mobility. How does a Focus crossover sound (or the Mazda Minagi)? Basically it should be something about the height of a Venza, but with the size and shape of a compact hatchback.

    • 0 avatar
      Thinx

      A small, reliable and economical roadster would also be a big segment for boomers.  Mazda already has the Miata in this segment, but it is a niche that no one else seems to be trying to fill.  A 2-seat, cheap-and-cheerful sub-25K roadster.
       
      The other segment is a compact pickup – just a regular 3-seat bench, column shift, and a 4×6 bed (with a 2 foot tailgate extension.  Although if such a workhorse existed, it would probably be much bigger than just a “niche”.
       
      The real niche though, IMO, is in the electric kit-car business.  There are three people in my neighborhood who have built or are in the process of building their own plug-in cars.  The earliest adopter is a guy who built himself a Bug-E trike and uses it for commuting almost daily.  I don’t know off-hand what kits the other two guys have, but they are all different ones – so it looks like there are a few shops getting into this business…  watch this space.
       
       
       
       

  • avatar
    srogers

    How could it be anything but a RWD turbo-diesel wagon with a sub 6 second 0-60, sub 3000lb curb weight and sub $22000 price? O yeah – it has to look like a ’63 vette.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Niche interest can change with time.  For example, my xB1 was cool in 05, and although I still love its utility and economy, I don’t think I’d get another ‘box’ design.
     
    One thing the mfrs could do: begin importing the vehicles sold elsewhere that US enthusiasts wish they could buy.  E.g.: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/return-of-the-ram-vans-fiat-ducato-doblo-coming-to-the-us-next-year/
     
    Some people (not me) love the shooting brake designs; Hyundai could import the i40, for example.

    Unfortunately, niche cars are money-losers unless priced high (SSR), or sold in large volumes, which violates the definition of ‘niche’. Importing desirable niche cars could be economically unviable.

    The Volt is a niche car. As an expensive, not-so-green money-loser, I’m not sure it will serve the purpose GM hoped it would. Nissan may fare better with the Leaf due to its green-ness and lower price.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Small, unibody, compact car based pickup trucks with AWD. Enough room in the passenger compartment (I wouldn’t call it a “cab”) for taller people to stretch out and bed large enough to carry a 4′x8′ sheet of plywood or sheetrock with the tailgate down. Diesel would be nice, but a variety of engines for a variety of tastes.

    But perhaps that is just me.

    • 0 avatar
      mazder3

      Sign me up for a turbocharged all-wheel drive Chevy Borrego (or anything similar) :)

    • 0 avatar
      alex_rashev

      Subaru needs to stop ignoring the most ignored market segment and build an Impreza-based 2-door, 2-seat pickup with an 8×4 bed. They have the drivetrain, they have the chassis, they just need to build the damn thing, market it, and watch the money roll in. Maybe turn it RWD and shove it to Toyota, too.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    With CAFE, fuel prices rising, and the general pussification of the U.S. and the rest of the world I’d be guessing that whatever the next niche is it’ll probably be small, slow, boring, and underpowered.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Personally I’m waiting for someone to have another go at the Mantra Rancha. My bet is on Range Rover trying first as it would kind of fit….

  • avatar
    tparkit

    A set of cheap cars for a permanently-poorer society. This will take two new forms: micro-cars, and strippers. The arrival of the well-equipped Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, etc., together with downmarket vehicles from luxury builders were the first visible steps toward this new reality, and we will witness its logical outcome. We won’t see words like “budget-conscious” in the ads, though. It will all be spun as “smart,” “environmentally-aware,” “energy-efficient” and so on. (Besides economic distress, the new vehicle types will also get a push from carmakers trying to meet mileage standards.)

    Some background:

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/146453/Gallup-Finds-Unemployment-Hitting-February.aspx

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/146429/Consumer-Spending-Slightly-February.aspx

    …And remember when this was satire? It won’t be:

    http://www.subaru.com/content/static/fightmediocrity/index.html

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      We won’t see words like “budget-conscious” in the ads, though. It will all be spun as “smart,” “environmentally-aware,” “energy-efficient” and so on.

       
      Yes.  The way hotels wash their bedspreads every third guest “to conserve water.”
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      With Body on Frame construction for larger cars, for platform sharing with pickups.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I keep praying for a return to sporty, sensible hatchbacks, Mazda 5 type people movers or compact trucks… but I fear this CUV thing is going to be around awhile more. Will a Brat like vehicle become “new” again? Or maybe someone will dig up the old Pulsar and make a sedan that converts into a hatchback via a fiberglass “cover”. Then why not take it a step further and have a Brat like vehicle that you add a cover thus turning it into a CUV?

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    The next big niche will be what I call the 30/30 Minivan.  I think the minivan segment will be stagnant until there is a significant rise in city fuel economy.  (Some, like the Honda Odyssey, are almost at 30 MPG highway already.) The magic spike in demand will happen when a carmaker can market a full-sized minivan as 30 mpg city 30 mpg highway.  Today’s hybrid drivetrains should get us most of the way there.  The Sonata Hybrid sedan is rated at 35 city/40 highway.  The Odyssey and the Chrysler vans already have storage wells under the floor that could be repurposed to hold batteries.

    • 0 avatar
      Dragophire

      This is kinda what I was thinking as well. The next big thing wont be design but power-train stuff.  I also thought of the van. If they can lighten the vans by about 500lbs and then add a hybrid power-train it could reach 35-37 mpg’s.  My hope would be that Nissan would do a diesel hybrid for its next Quest. That with 500 less pounds means alot more mpg.  Yes  I l know the batteries weigh alot I am talking about losing weight before the batteries. With this could we see the first 40mpg highway minivan? There are alot of high tech medals out there now someone could do this.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Public transportation.

  • avatar
    DaveA

    @srogers
    ha -good one!  And ad that it must haul a 4 X 8 too

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    The next big thing?

    fast looking, but plain or well cut, cars.
    As us guys get older, we want cars, but we need to feel young and cool.
    We need size, but not bulk.

    I say the A7 is a hit.
    I think the Panaorama is a hot seller…for those that can pay it.
    Jaguar has been doing well with this look.
    If you look at the feature just below this one, you see Nissan following that same look.

    So look for more “fastback” looking sedans.
    And guys like me inside with cool shades and that think we are still special…even though our necks look like turkey necks.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    By the way… I DO like the way the Murano convertable looks…very nice.
    But why didn’t they give it power IF they want to attract that same kind of buyer?
    I see it’s slow as hell.

  • avatar

    If we North Americans are so in love with large pickups and SUVs then it stands to reason that when the price of oil goes through the roof again we’ll still want the same thing but great on gas so the solution can take one of two forms.

    1. (my personal preference) – gear the hell out of everything, give me a diesel .25 overdrive 6 speed manual transmissions with a final drive of 2.0 and throw in cylinder cancellation.

    2. Make exact miniature versions of an F150, Silverado, Escalade, Chrysler 300, etc etc.

    We don’t need to re-invent anything just make it smaller – transistorize it in otherwords.

    • 0 avatar
      Dragophire

      I actually like the same sausage different length designs. A lot of folks dont like it but I dont see anything wrong with it. It gives you brand identity.

  • avatar
    stubydoo

    The traditional three-box car shape is a pretty wide open niche at the moment.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I agree.  Especially with the Panther platform dying and everything else in the sedan market looking more and more like the Hyundai Sonata, three defineable boxes is pretty wide open right now.  (Don’t get me wrong I actually like the look of the Sonata (especially in person) but I don’t want EVERY car to look like that.) 

    • 0 avatar
      KitaIkki

      Inexpensive mid-size unibody 3-box.  An upsized revival of the Datsun 510, a 200hp non-turbo direct injection four like the one in the base Sonata, and 6-speed manual and auto transmission.  Plus bench seats front and rear for 6-passenger room.

    • 0 avatar
      Kosher Polack

      Bring back the Ford 021C!
      Well, bring back the shape, at least. The colors can stay in conceptual LSD land.
      http://priuschat.com/forums/attachments/freds-house-pancakes/13984d1239162834-game-called-cars-ford-021c-concept-2.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      MarcKyle64

      Bring back the Ford Fairmont!

  • avatar
    mcs

    I wonder if vehicles like the Morgan Three wheeler could be the next trend. Less regulation (for now) and great fuel economy. If a volume manufacturer currently producing bikes like Honda were to cut the price down and make it weather-proof, I think these vehicles could take off – especially given the current economic environment.

    • 0 avatar
      alex_rashev

      This. As time goes on, cars get closer and closer towards general aviation in terms of overregulation. I think once electric takes off in a big way, tadpole trikes with 1 or 2 passenger seats will swamp the automotive landscape.

  • avatar
    Doc

    I think that we might be ready for sporty smaller wagons. I know a lot of Americans have an aversion to them, but there is a small but possibly growing niche market that might just make one fly. the CTS wagon may have helped this cause, especially the CTS V version.
     

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Except the CTS wagon is truly horrendous looking.  The CTS sedan is rather attractive.  The wagon, though, christ, what happened on the D pillar?  And I’m a total wagon lover!

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    I definitely think the next niche segment is Nissan juke type mini crossovers. If Nissan had made the Juke slightly more useful and less ugly it would sell well. Either that or a boom in affordable hybrid CUVs. If a company really wanted to make money hand over fist, they would allow one to unbolt the rear seats minivan style and put in a built in baby seat bench. The ability for a small car to hold three small children would make it a segment killer.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    Vehicles with loads of utility, without the macho of the giant pickup/SUV.  Currently served by the xB, Soul, Cube, and now defunct Element.  If gas prices continue upwards in the US, these vehicles are going to play a larger role than they currently do.  Don’t count out the Ford Transit, either, which is starting to show up more regularly around here.

  • avatar

    I think the juke is not a joke and could be pointing to a direction we will soon be seeing. To me it together with Hyndai’s Veloster point in this direction. BTW, I like it, I like the Juke and I like even more what Renault did in their execution of the same idea, a sporty, crossover, coupe-like-thing for people even more individualistic than buyers of Kia Soul.

    See the Captur here: http://www2.uol.com.br/bestcars/un13/346-renault-captur.htm
    Nice. Even better with smaller wheels, though the wheels themselves look wicked.

    Heck, you can even see the same design language in another concept shown by Renault at Geneva. And this time it’s a minivan people-mover-like-thing. But the general direction and design is the same as Veloster, Captur and Juke. I like it, too.

    http://www2.uol.com.br/bestcars/un13/347-renault-r-space.htm

  • avatar
    DaveA

    Smaller wagans will/are making a comback.  Today’s younger buyers don’t remember wagons being frumpy, plus they are anti-SUV rebelion.  Sports sedans/coupes will be for the older crowd who cannot come to terms with the wagons.  
        

  • avatar
    don1967

    “Big niche”?   Isn’t that an oxymoron?   Ah, never mind.
     
    I predict that the retro theme will spread across every car line, as a way of drawing people back into smaller cars and thus boosting CAFE numbers using current technology.   Honda, for example, will restyle the Civic to resemble a 1990 Accord, and will call it “The Accord”.  Millions of families will then trade in their Odysseys, and rediscover the simple pleasures of a right-sized family sedan with no loss of social standing whatsoever.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Dymaxion
     
     

  • avatar
    turtletop

    I hope the next big niche is the revival of the shooting brake. Based on a coupe, low cowl, lithe, lean, but  with enough room in the back to be useful. An extended 3-door hatchback, if you will, with a rear seat that folds to make a perfectly flat cargo bay. Lots of glass, airy greenhouse. Configurations ranging from high MPG economy to scary-fast slot car. A Volvo P1800ES would be a good benchmark.

    • 0 avatar
      campocaceres

      I am definitely with you on this.  It is one clean and elegantly proportioned car configuration that I am sad never really made it here in any fairly modern form.

      I’ve always had a liking for the hot hatches, but describing them always seems to lack adjectives such as the ones you use above.  A bit less practical, a bit more sexy and fun.

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      Now that Ferrari has done it (made an attractive shooting brake) let’s hope others follow.

  • avatar

    Small-displacement turbo-Diesels… hopefully.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I’d like to see several niches one day:
     
    - AWD minivan. The Sienna is the only game in town, and requires you buy a bunch of options to get it. The R-Class has swinging doors and is nothing more than a glorified Pacifica.
     
    - AWD luxury minivan. None exist, and I’m sure there’s a market for a minivan that’s more upscale than the current Nissan Quest. I’m thinking an Alphard or Elgrand with the interior of a QX56 or LS460.
     
    - AWD flagship turbine/I4 PHEV luxury sedan. The LS600hL comes close but it’s too powerful.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    How about the cheap, light, fun RWD car?  I don’t care if the interior is plastic fantastic.  Give me a RWD sedan/coupe/wagon/hatchback that is about the size of a first generation Impreza with a lively little 2.0L 4cylinder.  Miata is the only game in town and it really can’t be used for anything but a toy.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been requesting this one for nearly a decade. Hyundai has been hinting that they have one coming. Assuming that $25k counts as cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      Agreed. A fun, rear wheel drive car. Maybe the Toyota-Subaru will be it. Maybe Hyundai & Kia’s rear wheel drive Genesis coupe-based product is it. That’s two companies that have something in the works that might be iit.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      That’s my answer. Fun, minimalist, LIGHT, RWD that costs under $15k. You’ll get a lot of excuses why this can’t be done. I just point to the Miata (well maybe not price).
      Bring over the current-gen Japan market Toyota bB and fit it with the 1.3L/AWD or a small diesel and watch what happens.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      You’ll get a lot of excuses why this can’t be done. I just point to the Miata (well maybe not price).

      They’re not excuses, they’re reasons.  Rear drive is expensive to engineer, both because it requires a complex rear suspension to deliver the ride most people want and because you can’t leverage economies of scale.  It eats into passenger and cargo room, it delivers worse fuel economy.

      Toyota is managing to do the FT-86 by taking a commodity AWD platform and disconnecting the front wheels from the transfer case, thusly address the issue of scale.  Most companies can’t do that because they don’t have an AWD platform lying around, or they won’t do it because the take rate doesn’t make it worthwhile.

      Even niche vehicles have to make some financial sense, and a bargain-basement rear-drive car just doesn’t do that.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    A compact, unibody fwd motorhome. It has seating for five, but when parked, it opens up with all the motorhome amenities in compact size.  Oh, wait – except for the unibody and fwd, that’s a VW Kombi. Awww, build a modern version of it – VW just puts out teasers.
     
    Alternative idea: Chrysler’s original shortbed minivan, this time with a decent 4-banger. Then make a pickup out of it.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    Go anywhere in this country where there’s young people with money and what do you see? wagons.
    The upper northeast and the pacific northwest is postively littered with Subaru Outbacks and Audi Avants. If you’re young and active, odds are that you want a roof rack and room for gear and/or mutt. Minivans still sting in the minds of late 20-early 30′s crowd, Mom’s yellow SUV i sthe enemy (to quote a popular song) and sedans are what old people drive. I don’t know what it is about the word ‘sedan’ but in my mind, it’s synonomous with ‘coffin’. Maybe if we called them ‘Saloons’, it might be more exciting.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    A two-wheeled vehicle that goes a little faster than walking speed and stands upright when you get off it. It’s battery powered and plugs into a solar array. People in ciities will love it’s mobility. People in the suburbs will love that it will take distances that aren’t walkable and make them useable. Like being able to go to the store and get their free-range natural sugar Ginger ale and Ginger snaps. Yeah, that’s IT.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    1.  A new work pick-up truck for contractors…
    Imagine only the left side cab of a truck with a driver location in front and the passenger behind the driver.  So only a two seater on the left side of the vehicle.  A large single swinging door for both passengers to exit.  
    The cab will look like a piece of construction equipment.   Lots of flat glass.  Extra lights on the roof. 
    Then the rest of the pick-up will have a giant flat bed that extends all the way around the driver. Think pontoon boat!
    So you get a full pick-up bed, plus the entire right side all the way to the front and even space in front of the driver.   
    All four corners of the truck will have fold down sides.   The design should allow the vehicle to be driven with the sides either up or down.  The front and rear “tail & front gates” will have holes where the lights are when the are swung down.
    No frills accessories and built heavy duty.   Ask premium pricing for a simple vehicle using an existing heavy duty pick-up platform. 
    Many accessories could be developed to carry various styles of cargo.

    2.  The Generation XYZ-P aftermarket gizmo car.
    Pick a small to mid-sized low cost 4-door platform.  Crank windows & old fashion control knobs for reliability, ease of service, low cost, and a throw back to the 60′s, the anti-tech.   Think push-pull headlight switch.  Have a crank sunroof. Make it look sporty even though it not.  (not Juked, think Porsche Panamera on the cheap)   The interior must be totally different than any other car on the market. Now create a full length center console that goes from the rear package tray to the front window.     It will have modular inserts so that the owner or passengers can either hold or mount their own electronics.  It can have an array of power plugs available.   Push this standard modular insert design towards all the gadget makers so they can make adapters for their gizmos to fit.
    The goal is for the gen-who-ever to go cruising with his wired friends and all their gizmos.  Technology changes so fast, all you need is the standard modular inserts and power so the owner can upgrade.  One car fits all, except color to control costs.   The owner does the accessories.
    If the owner is not creative on his gizmo selection & installation, the dealer or Best Buy can offer this service.
    Theme: A car that keeps up with my technology.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Item 2 is essentially the non-turbo MINI Countryman.  Front to back rail: check.  Unique interior: check.  Toggle switches: check.  “accessorize your ride”: check.

  • avatar
    Autojunkie


    Pure electric cars, of course…

    They’ll create quite the buzz (they already are) and they will sell a bunch of them. The after the first couple of years of having to drive them in ice-cold winters, realizing they are driving with a tether at all times, and when it’s finally understood that the production of the battery alone wreaks more environmental havoc than the complete life of Cadillac Escalade, the full-electric car fad will (once again) fade away.
    I’ll be joyfully waving to them in my stop-start fossil fuel-burning automobile that has no tether, can withstand a Michigan winter, and will most likely have a better resale value.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I’m digging Trend-Shifter’s “work truck,” but doubt it will come to pass in the near future except as a possible battlefield military implement.
     
    I don’t think it’ll be the next big niche, but it should.  Take the next-generation lighter-weight (lighter-duty?) 1/2 ton pickup (for realz, none of this 1900 lb 1/2 ton bed capacity) V6/8 rear drive ladder frame with a shortened wheelbase and put a widebody sedan body on top of it.  Lower it for large-car ride height, put a flat load floor in back and make a notchback/hatchback rear so it looks like a sedan, but the “trunklid” and backlight lift up together, a la prior-gen Mazda6 hatch.  Offer 4wd and do whatever else is required to qualify this as an “EPA truck,” but position it as a genuine replacement for the Panther-class vehicle offering waftable torque, effortless acceleration, capacious accommodations and generous load-carrying ability.  Make a true wagon variant also, but the notchback hatch offers sedan looks with improved load swallowing over a mail slot trunk lid.  If you really want to get crazy, on the wagon it could have sliding doors…one per side.  Front and rear together.
     
    Maybe I should just go drink my coffee.

  • avatar
    colin42

    Compact hatchbacks & wagons – Ford Focus sized – well I can wish can’t I?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      And lo, we have the Golf/Jetta, Matrix, HHR, Elantra Touring, Forte5 & Rondo, Mazda3 & 5 and, by virtue of their interior dimensions, the Cube, Fit and Versa.  Oh, and the Calibre, if you must.
       
      We actually have a lot of compact wagons and hatches.

  • avatar
    snabster

    1.  Nissan Juke.  I actually love it, and just wish the higher end version had a stick.
     
    2.  Wagons
     
    3.  Big cars that are lighter.  The comment about men and size of cars is very important to 40+ guys.
     
    If gas prices continue to rise, something that gets better city mileage than my saab (15MPG!) is essential.  Honda CR-Z?  Only a hybrid could deal with the city.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    In truth, the next big ‘vehicle’ is movile devices. Younger people these days wow more at iPhones than they do Ferarris.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    How about the return of the two-door sedan? I’m not talking about a coupe, which is shorter, but an honest-to-goodness sedan, with roll-down (at least most of the way) rear windows that make the platform practical and usable. My dad owned sedans that had the full back seat area in his old 1950 Plymouth and later in his 1953 Dodge. I owned a 1952 Chevy Deluxe and a 1961 Chevy Bel-Air; both were two-door sedans, not business coupes. Yes, they had “B” pillars, and the last two-door sedan I saw on the market was the Acura Legend, in which the back windows rolled down, but not all the way due to the structure, which was common on all sedans. Anyway, that’s what I would like to see. A practical two-door automobile. Must be too much to ask, though.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      I’m with you Zackman, but it’s unlikely to happen.  Largish 2-door cars don’t sell well enough, or command enough of a price premium over the 4-door versions, to warrant manufacture.  That’s why the 90′s Impala SS, Mercury Marauder and current Dodge Charger all have four doors, even though their namesakes from the 60′s were all 2-doors.
       
      Similarly, that’s why we now have the Toyota Venza and Honda Crosstour.  If they simply made a wagon version of the sedan, buyers would expect to pay close to the same price as the sedan version.  By using the same platform with a CUV-like body, they can charge a higher price premium and probably sell more too, because CUVs are more popular than wagons presently.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Back in the mid-late 1980′s, GM brought back the large two-door sedans in the front wheel drive Buicks. Maybe large two-doors don’t sell, but part of the reason has to be that they aren’t practical due to the fixed windows. I know I harp on this constantly, but I believe a car, no matter what platform or rendition(?) has to be functional. If it has a back seat intended to be used and not just to satisfy the insurance companies, then it must/should be built to function properly. I suppose that’s what’s being an “enthusiast” means to me, along with proper external and interior badging and trimming and character.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    In the US, the baby boomers are just about to hit old age.  That means the end of long, low-slung cars that are hard to enter and exit . . . and more cars styled like the cars of the 1940s, with an upright, chair-like seating position.  These cars will not be very aerodynamic; regardless of how their c/d can be pared down, they will have a substantial frontal area.  Increased used of structured composites will result in lighter weight, making fuel economy gains easier.
    Powertrain advances may go in the direction of hybrid or PEVs.  Possibly a small gas-turbine powered generator that cycles on and off may offer weight and packaging efficiency as compared to a piston engine and complex series-parallel drivetrain, and be equally or more economical if operated only in its maximally efficient powerband. Electric traction motors would be the sole source of motive power — running from battery and/or generator.  The Volt concept is on the right track; the implementation sucks.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      As a 60-year-old card-carrying baby-boomer (too many hyphens!), I agree. But that’s why I think they are making all the CUV’s. Our CR-V has that easy slide-in, slide-out ability, and my Impala is rather tall, so that’s easy as well. Our Miata? Well, I refuse to give up youthful fun, so I try to keep in a modicum of shape so I can continue to enjoy some sportiness! Ditto for my wife.

  • avatar
    ccd1

    In terms of trends, car makers have to make low weight a selling point like hp.  Sooo tired of all these porky cars that are a bore to drive.  If they did this, there could be two niches, both based on low weight.  The other thing is that people like the look of sedans, but like hatchback utility. 

    1) Take a car the size of the previous gen Mazda6, keep the sedan look even though it is a hatch (like the prev gen model), make it rear wheel drive, give is a peppy turbo 4 and get the weight down to 3,000 lbs and you would have a nice niche product.  A sporty car that a person over 40 would be comfortable being seen in.  Think of shrinking the Panamera down to this size or even the size of the current gen Mazda6 or shrinking the Audi A7 down to this size.

    2) A true CRX replacement.  I think Honda identified a real niche with the CRZ, they just screwed up the execution.  Or take the idea slightly upmarket and offer a Elise-type car for reasonable money.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    Oh yeah, that Mercedes in the pic is certainly carving a niche, the niche of STATION WAGONS that have been replaced by CUV and other inept junk.

  • avatar
    mjz

    The return of the “mini” minivan. Like Ford’s new C-Max.

    • 0 avatar

      Spot on, Mjz. The C-segment not a station wagon is the new black. Soul, Cube, etc. are selling to folks who love the form factor but tolerate the “image”. Lose the “cool” and you’ve got the new hotness. My town is positively crawling with Kia Rondos. I suspect the C-max will do well.
      If Ford doesn’t show a “concept” C-max blinged up like a faux-wood paneled Ranch Wagon, they’re missing the trend.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m thinking of something radical in a full size car – like, longer, lower, wider. It has a big greenhouse with near-vertical side glass and a rear window that will actually allow you to see the grille of the car behind you. It also has a curved windshield so you can see around the A-pillars, and an engine compartment so big, you can see the ground under the car. The ignition key goes into the dashboard, and the shifting mechanism is some kind of lever attached to the steering column, and there’s a one piece seat that allows three people to sit in the front. I wonder if something like that would sell?

  • avatar
    SpacemanSpiff

    I figure that the first non-German small to medium turbodiesel hatchback or wagon will pick up all the buyers who would buy a VW tdi but are afraid of their reliability.  I say this as a former Golf tdi and Audi A4 owner.
    I think Subaru’s customers in particular would love a diesel Forester or Outback.  The diesel engine would help make up for Subaru’s poor fuel economy due to the AWD system’s weight and drag.


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