By on June 25, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

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.

2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake, Image: Jaguar

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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56 Comments on “Wagons Ho! What’s Going on With the Station Wagon/Shooting Brake/Estate Car Market?...”


  • avatar
    "scarey"

    What is that wagon pictured in the second pic ? It is gorgeous ! (So is the Ford pictured.) I have always loved wagons. When I was a kid, my Dad bought an Impala wagon. With the back seat folded down, 4 kids could sleep in the back. When we woke up, the seat was up again and one of us rode up front. We took LOTS of trips in that car.

  • avatar
    deanst

    I remember reading that at one point station wagon versions of cars like the 3 series or C class actually outsold their sedan counterparts in Germany. Makes sense to me!

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Where are wagons found in the US? New England. I took my Mom to register her car a week ago in my e91 328! wagon, and what should roll up in the 10 minutes I was there? Two more, one generation newer f31 wagons. And I passed two more e91s like mine on the 5-minute drive to town hall.

    I had to take a picture:

    https://flic.kr/p/25A5NGQ

  • avatar
    carguy

    Wagons are doing just fine in the US thanks to the fact that nobody calls them wagons anymore. They now designate them as CUVs which are a varying mix of station wagon, minivan and hatchback. Look no further than the Audi Q7 for a fine example of a practical modern wagon – just don’t call it that.

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      No, it’s not an old wagon, it’s a CUV that can go anywhere! AWD! It’s adventure, excitement! Not a boring mommy-mobile. /s

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        If it’ll hack my life, where do I sign?

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        All CUVs/SUVs are jacked up wagons, sometimes with AWD sometimes with FWD, sometimes with RWD. Your argument is a bunch of sizzle-selling, but it’s still steak-shaped hamburger. The automakers love the designation because they can classify them as trucks for CAFE purposes. We’ll be seeing tall-roofed ones soon, with sliding doors – but don’t call them minivans! When Ford says it won’t be building cars anymore, they just won’t be calling them cars anymore.

        PS: the compact and sub-compact ones are actually 5-door hatches!

    • 0 avatar
      Carroll Prescott

      I can assure you that a CUV is NOT a wagon.

      • 0 avatar
        Stanley Steamer

        SUVs/CUVs are station wagons at their core no matter how you shave them. A hatchback used to be a sedan or coupe where the rear window and trunk were composed of a single glass trunk lid. But as soon as you extend the C pillar rearward or add a D pillar, then you have a station wagon.

        • 0 avatar

          I have to agree. The characteristics are all there. I did not buy my Jeep Renegade in order to have an SUV. I bought it in order to have a practical 5-door hatchback/wagon with a manual transmission with a spacious interior relative to its small footprint.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        But it is.
        Maybe raised.
        Maybe AWD, but many wagons have this.
        Maybe the cargo area oif a CUV/SUV isn’t as long, but is taller than a regular wagon.
        They are all uni-body.

        If you took a wagon,raised it 7 to 8 inches off the ground, what would be the difference with it vs an SUV or CUV?

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Truly. My wife hates my Sable wagon, doesn’t even want to ride in it, because wagon. But when it came time to replace her Malibu Maxx, she wanted a Forester. I’ve been married long enough to know not to point out that both the Maxx and the Forester are bot wagons with a few styling adjustments.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Eventually this is GOING To happen with CUVs just like it did with wagons and minivans. Eventually, the Mommies of the world will start seeing them as the mommy-mobiles that they are, and not want to be caught dead in them. And we will see a resurgence of longer-lower-wider and cars with actual style rather than the ubiquitous road-blob of today.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          krhodes1…You Nailed It!

          We were having a neighborhood driveway potluck about 3 weeks ago, school had wrapped up etc.

          I was talking the neighbors who have a CR-V and a Tundra. The daughter is driving now on a permit. The Honda has been moms car for 8 years or more. I asked if Olivia was going to get moved to it, and if mom was getting something new.

          First words from Olivia were something along the lines of Yeah, great I get to look like a teenage Mom now! She really wants something other than a Mom mobile.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yup Wagons are selling better than ever, just with a bastardized name.

      Back in the day GM IH, and Jeep made no bones calling their truck based Station Wagons Large Station Wagons, because that is what they were.

      You had the MPVs like the CJ, Scout, and Bronco which coined the term Sports Utility as the model name for the 1/2 cab or pickup version of their original Bronco.

      But Sport Utility Vehicle sounded much better than Station Wagon in buyer’s minds and now it has been bastardized even further with the CUV nomenclature.

      It is interesting that one of my students, who just graduated, made no bones about calling her CR-V a Wagon or a Station Wagon and that was HS she just graduated from.

      • 0 avatar
        Wodehouse

        I remember VW, Dodge, Ford and GM in the 1960s and ’70s marketing passenger vans as wagons. Had a neighbor that owned a Corvair Greenbrier “Sportswagon”.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Yep…just about every time I see a CUV, I think either “wagon” or “hatchback” depending on the model. But we can’t call them that, as it would be marketing/sales poison.

      I’d still love a nice 3-series wagon mit Schaltgetrieb (not that my financial situation allows for such dreams). In four years, when I hand over the Cruze hatch, I’ll be pulling hard to find some sort of manual wagon (assuming there will be any left by then!).

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    See what youll pay for a clean Hemi powered Dodge Magnum. A low mileage SRT can bring mid-high $20s. I was looking at Magnums along with Challengers when I was in the market…Hemi cars for sale are few and far between. People just don’t let go of them, since theyre reliable long term, and there just isn’t anything out there to replace one.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      You can find the non Hemi base 2.7 and 3.5 High Output models fairly reasonably priced though the 2.7 is a dog motor. A clean R/T Hemi can be found for under $10k. I wish they would bring them back since Chrysler needs a niche model.

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    Had a 2015 Volvo XC70 with the T6 and loved it.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I have a TSX Sportwagon and it’s working out fine. The CAR is low enough that I can strap lumber and stuff to the roof rack without needing a stepstool. I can put larger stuff in the “trunk.” Best of all it doesn’t feel like it’s going to tip over when I go thru a corner.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      You can make a wagon-on-stilts handle, but then it rides like poop. If it rides OK it handles like poop. And as you say, you need a stepladder to get anything on the roof. And you get to pay for AWD three times – upfront, at the pumps, and to your mechanic. No thanks.

      The TSX wagon is the only Acura I would not kick out of the garage, though I would be investigating how to swap that autotragic for a proper transmission.

  • avatar

    Feels sort of like a temporary uptick in offerings at the moment. The XF is a trial run sort of thing, and I think it’ll flop. The TourX will (IMO) be deleted after a short run, since Opel is no longer under GM.

    Outback, E-Class, and V90 will persist as specialty sort of products, which have their own decent following – enough to justify bringing them here. A4 Allroad is too small and too expensive; it can go away. The Alltrack will probably make it, I’m seeing them around even here in Ohio.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      The XF will bomb because it’s priced above the Mercedes with less space. It’ll sell like the Jaguar Modeo.

      The TourX won’t sell because a) Buick dealers suck b) GM won’t incentivize leases c) Buick branding sucks d) It’s not getting marketed e) GM isn’t interested in selling them or f) all of these reasons plus 10 more I can’t think of.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      Saw my first V90 in the flesh over the weekend. Black color…..long, low, wide, gorgeous stance. Beautiful car.

    • 0 avatar
      random1

      The TourX won’t sell because it’s ugly as sin. Went this weekend to take a look (my father is in the market for a wagon, or alternatively a mid-size SUV/CUV), and the ugly plastic BS takes it out of consideration. Even the salesman said it’s just not selling because it’s aesthetically challenged.

      So we checked out the E – fantastic and expensive as always. He’s going to check out the Jag, which realistically is not too differently priced than the E. Option packaging on the E is its weak point. You can’t get adaptive cruise without premium 3. ACC is a requirement for him.

      V90 also gorgeous, most dealers only carry the CC or whatever it’s called. And again, take a great looking car, raise it, throw some cheap plastic on it, and charge more. Brilliant. Non-starter.

      Agree with you on Allroad. Alltrack kind of similar, if Sportwagens were offered in better trims, the sportwagen would die. VW probably read the public right though, Alltrack for a premium is probably the right move. Sigh.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Also how is JATO defining a station wagon? I have seen websites that refer to the KIA Soul (and in past iterations, Nissan Cube and Scion xB) as station wagons, which they most decidedly are not.

    The EPA website at fueleconomy.gov defines all of the following as station wagons:

    Chevrolet Bolt
    KIA Soul
    KIA Niro
    Nissan Rogue
    Nissan Kicks
    Subaru Impreza 5-door
    MINI Cooper Clubman
    KIA Forte 5-door
    FIAT 500L
    Nissan Murano

    It also lists some of the actual station wagons as described in the article.

    So if JATO is including all of these not-wagons, I’m less surprised at the 9% figure.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Can I please have a GTI or Elantra GT wagon? Thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I’d take a GTI wagon if one ever appeared, but VW doesn’t seem interested in that. Probably less so now that the Tiguan and Atlas are selling decently. Guess I’d have to make my own through a tune and other upgrades.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    If you’re not talking Vista Cruiser, then you’re not talking station wagon, mister.

  • avatar
    d4rksabre

    For as much as I complain about the build quality of my Impala, if GM rolled out a Malibu based wagon I’d be on the lot tomorrow giving my money away. I can’t afford the TourX, but something to compete with the SportWagen would be perfect.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I bet the next 3 Series wagon, which should be due soon, will—ah—fail to appear in the US market. After that, the new Regal TourX will probably bow out, too, as a failed experiment. Much like the departed SS, GM probably isn’t making much money on it and thus seems very uninterested in marketing it or offering good deals.

    Its a toss-up on the XF Sportbrake and E-Class wagon. They could go, they could stay. I’d consider the Clubman a wagon, too, and the jury is out on that one.

    The Outback isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the allroad, most likely. Now that the diesel is unwelcome, which made up for 90 percent of Jetta SportWagen/Golf SportWagen sales (yours truly included)…I could see VW not bringing over the next SportWagen, but definitely keeping the Alltrack. And I think Volvo is committed to wagons all-in.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      What’s funny about the TourX is I would think if Peugeot had any brains GM would be obligated to have the production of the Regal Sportback and Tour X make up XX% of the factories output. I would think that there would be a certain number of them coming to the states whether Buick wants them or not.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    I was holding out hope Mazda would bring the 6 wagon stateside. Guess it’s not going to happen.

  • avatar
    JaredN

    I see and agree with the “CUV’s are wagons” point, however, to me, a wagon is longer.

    Example: people call the Impreza 5 door a wagon. But the thing is, the Impreza sedan has a longer trunk floor. And look at a Golf 5 door. That’s a “wagon” the same way an Impreza 5 door is. So why does VW make a 5 door hatchback and a 5 door WAGON?

    I bought a Golf Sportwagen because it was the same size as an Impreza, yet the trunk was a proper wagon trunk- I can fit my big dog in it.

    All the pictures and mentions of wagons up top have proper wagon-length trunks. CUV trunks are taller and shorter.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    owned one wagon in my life, a 1975 Pinto wagon in 1980, yep, bought it off of my sister for $600, it was a one owner, v6, auto, did some body work on the doors ( rusty from the Michigan winters) and a new paint job, interior was near perfect, put a cool looking set of wheels on it and a nice stereo, it got a lot of thumbs up, the wagon didn’t have the exploding gas tank problem that the rest of them had. kept it for 2 years and sold it for $1500 :-) I want that Buick wagon, hey customer loyalty! 5 Buicks in my life.

  • avatar
    OzCop

    Or the 70 s Plymouth Fury’s and Dodge Monaco’s. Make mine a 440 with tow package. Actually, one of the best cars I ever owned was a 78 Diplomat Wagon with the 318. My ex wife drove it for 12 years and 160 K miles when she took possession of it in 1979. It had to be a good wagon. She could break an anvil, but the wagon kept going…

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    We need a good station wagon hero car in an action movie. Right now if asked about a station wagon appearing in a movie the only one we can think of is the Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation.

    We need a Deathproof-style Wagon. A Fairmont Wagon with a rip-snorting 351W. A Dodge Magnum with a rootes-blower sticking through the hood. A LeSabre Wagon on 275s behind flares with a ducktail and a front splitter. SOMETHING TO MAKE WAGONS COOL AGAIN!

    • 0 avatar
      redgolf

      A Mad Max version Ford Falcon station wagon! ” I’m scared Fif, you know why? It’s that rat circus out there. I’m beginning to enjoy it. ” ( Mel Gibson)

  • avatar
    vagvoba

    The problem is that many wagons are sold as premium vehicles in the US.

    Take the BMW 3 series. The wagon costs $10K more than the sedan in the US, while in Europe the wagon is only 1.5K euro more expensive.

    Mercedes-Benz E series wagon? Same story, $10K more expensive in the US, only 3.5K euro more expensive in Europe.

    VW? The Passat wagon costs only $1K more in Europe.

    When both the sedan and wagon versions are offered at similar price, it is a no brainer to choose the wagon over the sedan most of the time, considering the added utility.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    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?

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      The time my CTS Wagon was getting a warranty repair, the dealer loaned me an SRX (which I reviewed here about 5 years back). All of those points you raised applied: the CTS struggled to carry a rather small chair home from Ikea. I spent 20 minutes unboxing it and removing the feet and, even then, I had to force it into the space as the vertical opening was 19 inched. The SRX had an additional 8-10 inches.

      When I bought the CTS, they were hard to find so I ended up with the 3.0 motor, a decision that I came to regret. The 3.6 in the SRX was so much better. The SRX rode better than the CTS. In the end, when the CTS was traded, a sedan replaced it as its supposed wagon advantages turned out to be almost non-existent. The CTS, in black, was very striking in a way that no CUV will eve be. As a practical choice for the mission at hand, a CUV is a better choice.

      The only reason for sportwagons is if they are true performance vehicles, RWD/AWD with serious motors and handling and style to match. If you don’t go all the way on this, a CUV is always more practical.

      • 0 avatar
        outback_ute

        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!

  • avatar
    OzCop

    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…

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