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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
wagons ho whats 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 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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  • 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...

  • MaintenanceCosts All I want is one more cylinder. One more cylinder and I would happily pay the diesel fraud company almost whatever they wanted for it.
  • SPPPP US like Citroen - nothing moves.
  • Jeff S Corey--Thanks again for this serious and despite the lack of comments this is an excellent series. Powell Crosley does not get enough recognition and is largely forgotten even in his hometown of Cincinnati although the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Airport has 2 Crosley cars on display. Crosley revolutionized radios by making an affordable radio that the masses could afford similar to what Henry Ford did with the Model T. Both Crosley and Ford did not invent the radio and the car but they made them widespread by making them affordable. I did not know about the Icyball but I did know about Crosley refrigerators, airplanes, cars, and radios.
  • Oberkanone C5 Aircross is the only vehicle that would have any appeal in North America. Can't see it doing well with Citroen badge, maybe a chance with Chrysler badge.
  • Oberkanone 1921 thru 1936 are the best
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