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]
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