It's The End of the Sedan as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)
Actually, I don’t feel fine. Far from it, in fact. Ever since I can remember, there has been a three-box sedan in my family’s driveway — both before and after I was old enough to buy by own vehicles. Midsize sedans used to be the default choice for most families in my hardscrabble hometown, parked cheek-to-jowl with rusty pickups at the local grocery store.
Now, our inky-black Charger is the exception rather than the rule in the school drop-off queue. Save for a CTS next door and a Mazda 3 down the street, we’re about the only household around with a sedan in the drive. The midsize four-door is in a bad way.
Through November of last year, every single midsize sedan in America, save for the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, recorded double-digit declines in sales. It’s a sea of red, like the departure board at JFK during a so-called snow bomb cyclone. Even those two models, nameplates steeped in value and recently refurbished unto the zenith of plushness, were off by about three percent in 2017. If those two storied brands can’t plant the seeds of growth, what hope do the rest of them have?
Efficiency and aerodynamic advancements in the sedan’s crossover brethren are quickly scuppering the value-add that four-doors once held over their stilt-wearing cousins. A front-drive 2018 Ford Edge with the prole-spec 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic holds but a single mpg over its Taurus cousin with the same drivetrain. So equipped, the Edge is, naturally, $4,000 more expensive to the consumer, and likely brings a lot more profit to the Glass House.
It doesn’t matter. Know why? Ford will gladly stretch the note for an Edge over 84 month at a subvented rate of 2.99 percent. The Taurus? 4.9 percent for the same terms. When America runs on monthly payments, you can guess which machine the customer will drive off the lot.
Other forces are at work, too. Manufacturers have economy targets to meet, and it’s not like sedans provide a big boost to the corporate average anymore. Building sedans takes up space on a production line, space which could be occupied by a higher-margin crossover. Witness the current mania being flung around the internet about the state of the next Ford Fusion. This is all without mentioning the fact that many customers like the feeling of sitting high in traffic, whether all four wheels are driven or not.
When this author and his wife bought a Ford Edge in 2009 to accompany our five-year-old Lincoln LS, I remarked at the time that if it was ’89 instead of ’09, we’d be signing the note on a Taurus wagon instead. I maintain that opinion. The Edge met its fate in a high-speed accident (no major injuries), at which point I returned to my senses and bought another sedan – the Charger, which is now fully paid off.
Further back in my rapidly aging memory banks, I can recall reading the Touring page of C/D back in the early ‘90s – y’know, when buff books stretched to nearly 200 pages and weren’t wall-to-wall with WeatherTech ads. They did, however, at the back of the book, have those odd FBI SEIZURE CAR ads and scandalous girly phone numbers to call, both of which bewildered and bewitched my pre-teen eyes. Anyway…
Some author – perhaps it was Bedard or Csere, I can’t recall – was pontificating about the then-new Ford Explorer. A quote harvested from a dealer has been seared into my brain ever since my retinas registered the ink on that page: “Most buyers traded in a car – often a sporty model.” The stage was set, even back then.
Today, I do a double-take whenever I see a wagon version of the Accord. I know Steph definitely spins around every time a Camry coupe drives past. Consumer demand necessitated the demise of these trims. Do you think in 20 years, when I’m the ripe old age of 57, I’ll be craning my neck to get a glimpse of a passing four-door sedan and saying, “I remember those!”
Of course, consumer tastes change like the wind, and the early ‘80s saw the station wagon reduced to a dusty corpse, slumped limply in the corner glowering at the Chrysler Magic Wagon and silently shouting “J’accuse!” as each minivan filled with happy families drove past. Perhaps there is a cycle at work this time as well, but I don’t think so.
I am certain there is a parallel universe out there in which the Ford Explorer was never built, the SUV boom never took off, and one can waltz into a Chevy showroom and select from any number of Impala and Caprice sedans instead of high-riding Equinox and Traverse crossovers. Alas, such is not the case on this particular Earth.
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- ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
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Nice piece. However take into account the fact Camcord offers predictable results, comfort, rear seat and trunk room at a somewhat reasonable price. The competition cannot offer all of those things at once, which is why they mostly suck. We'll never know what the market would be if there were more than two choice options in the segment.
It's not 500 words, but here's my take: Moms gotta sit up high.