Wagons Ho! What's Going on With the Station Wagon/Shooting Brake/Estate Car Market?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
wagons ho what s going on with the station wagon shooting brake estate car market

Ugh, you say. Wagons. A painfully uncool body type you swore off during childhood and haven’t reneged on since. A body type drooled over and feted by journalists who never put their meagre income where their mouth is. Yes, wagons. They remain part of our our automotive landscape, just a vanishingly small part of it.

But who’s buying them, and where? We have the answers.

Thanks to a study published by JATO Dynamics, we can now gauge the wagon market’s global health. As you might expect, the patient isn’t doing all that hot, but there’s promising signs of life in that market where all future automotive hopes lie: China.

But you don’t care about that, do you? You want to know that the United States accounted for 9 percent of the wagons bought in 2017. Europeans ran off with 72 percent, while the Chinese matched America’s thirst for this sometimes stodgy, sometimes gorgeous body style. More on that in a bit.

For 2018, the U.S. market picked up two lookers — the Buick Regal TourX, which General Motors has high hopes for, and the slinky Jaguar XF Sportbrake. Look for the latter wherever imported wagons are found. Which is to say, almost nowhere. A year earlier, we were welcoming the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack to the country, where it bunks with its SportWagen sibling. There’s also the recent Audi A4 Allroad to consider, and Volvo’s stunning V90 wagon will be joined by a redesigned V60 for the 2019 model year.

Mercedes-Benz is only too happy to sell American customers a wagon. Bimmer, too. Mini has a Clubman it wants you to look at. Subaru’s Outback seems assured of a long life. Suffice it to say, the market isn’t exactly on life support, but how many of these models will exist in three years? 50 percent? It’s a possibility.

JATO Dynamic’s charts show a steady decline for the wagon over the past 15 years, both in America and globally. Stateside, the take rate in 2017 was 1.4 percent, essentially unchanged from 2002. It’s not that much better on a global basis, with worldwide sales of wagons amounting to 3.1 percent of the total market in 2017. That’s down from 5.5 percent in 2002. In terms of total sales, however, wagons rose 5.7 percent last year, compared to 2016.

In the heart of the bodystyle’s biggest fan club, Europe, popularity is waning as small crossovers enter the market in greater numbers. Wagon die-hards seem to like them, but that group’s numbers aren’t rising. Still, the the body style’s market share has only dropped about 1 percent in Europe over the past 15 years (to 11.5 percent), mainly thanks to the continued support from Germany (which absorbs 37 percent of the European market’s wagon sales), and Scandinavia, where wagons represent 23 percent of total vehicle registrations. The Nordic countries account for 12 percent of European wagon sales.

Where automakers see hope for a continues wagon presence is in China, which only saw 0.9 percent of new car buyers take home a wagon in 2017. Still, that figure is vastly higher than in years past. Wagon sales in that fast-growing country rose 329 percent last year, reflecting both the introduction of various new models and the overall growth of the Chinese car market.

Stateside, there’s little doubt that the absolute saturation of the new car market with crossovers of every size and price will continue relegating wagons to a niche role. If demand was zero, though, we’d have seen the last of them years ago. It could be argued that the greater profits reaped from truck and utility vehicle sales allows automakers the flexibility to offer low-volume products like wagons.

Maybe we can all live in harmony.

[Images: Steph Willems/TTAC, Jaguar Land Rover]

Join the conversation
4 of 56 comments
  • Pete Zaitcev Pete Zaitcev on Jun 26, 2018

    Why would you want a crossover that's squished to the ground, so it's harder to load, harder to board, and is not at all better performing?

    • See 1 previous
    • Outback_ute Outback_ute on Jun 26, 2018

      @bunkie To be fair the CTS must rank as one of the least practical wagons ever. I find JaredN's point about wagons generally having longer trunk floors to be true, which is often more useful than load height or outright volume. Mind you the overall vehicle length is usually longer too, comparing wagons and CUVs based on the same platform. Personally I don't mind CUVs as a throwback to the days before the whole longer/wider/lower thing, and a way to get reasonable ground clearance, a more upright windscreen etc. Too many sedans sacrifice practicality for style; to circle back at least wagons solve the fastback roof headroom problem!

  • OzCop OzCop on Jun 27, 2018

    I forgot the coolest Camry one could buy in the not to distant past was the Toyota Venza wagon. Nicely equipped, decent price, and good looks compared to a Camry sedan. I am surprised they stopped production after the 2015 model...

  • Inside Looking Out I see it as gladiator races - only one survives in virtual world.
  • Crown They need to put the EcoDiesel back in the Grand Cherokee. I have a 2018 and it has been the most reliable vehicle I ever owned. 69,000 miles and only needed tires, and regular oil and fuel filter changes.
  • El scotto Y'all are overthinking this. Find some young hard-charging DA seeking the TV limelight to lock this kid up. Heck, have John Boehner come up from Cincy to help the young DA get his political career going. Better yet, have the young DA spin this as hard as he or she can; I'm the candidate for Law and Order, I defied our go-easy office and leadership to get this identified criminal locked up. Oh this could be spun more than a hyper active kid's top.Now I'd do some consulting work for Little Kings Original Cream Ale and Skyline Chili.
  • El scotto Pondering if he has a clean brandy snifter. Well but, ah, I mean the original Grand Wagoneer was fully loaded and had a V-8. The original Grand Wagoneer had an almost cult-like following with a certain type of woman. Attractive, educated high earning women; or those that put on the appearances of being that way.Our esteemed HerR DOKtor Perfessor again shows how ignorant he is of the American market. What he deems "bread-vans on stilts" are highly coveted by significant others that are also highly coveted. The new Grand Cherokee with the new well engineered V-6 will sell as well as the ones from the 80s some of us get wistful over. The only real question will be: LL Bean or Orvis edition?
  • El scotto Well, I've had cats that are smarted than a great many members of congress. I rather doubt that any of the congresspeople Matt named are engineers, finance people or project managers. Ya know, professionals you call in to get a job done.Today is Wednesday, this will be out of the 36 hour news cycle by Friday. Oh it might get mentioned again on OCT 6. Unless there are cute animals to put on TV that day.