Yet this is not an obituary for the station wagon. On the contrary, there is optimism for a rebound.
To borrow the cliché: Perhaps it's darkest before dawn. The wagon's replacement, the minivan, is now the derisive suburban punchline. The SUV has become an expensive-to-buy and expensive-to-fuel proposition.
The crossover, while reaching a crescendo in popularity, is the worst of all automotive words. It often has the bulky driving dynamics and fuel economy of an SUV while offering the roominess of a sedan.
So enter the station wagon. Often built on the same platform of their sedan counterparts, they're relatively cheap for automakers to manufacture. Wagons offer the space and versatility of an SUV without compromising on driving dynamics and fuel economy. The latter explains why full-bodied station wagons are wildly popular in Europe.
If there's any hope for an American station wagon renaissance, it's going to start with a European brand. And if it starts with a European brand, Volvo would be at the forefront of any return from the rubble.
Volvo, it turns out, is bullish on the future of station wagons.
"We don't think the segment is huge, but it's starting to come back," Volvo CEO John Maloney said. "Now is the right time for a couple of reasons."
Sixty years after it first unveiled the station wagon, Volvo introduced the V60 sport wagon at last week's New York Auto Show. Sleek is perhaps the most overused used in the auto industry, used to describe so many new offerings that it ends up describing none at all. But the elegant V60 does sleek justice. It makes it legal to use the words "sleek" and "station wagon" in the same sentence.
The V60 is a same-segment antidote to the Family Truckster. Contrary to the cliché, Maloney doesn't see domesticity at the root of the station wagon's return. Wagon customers want flexibility, but don't want an SUV. He says Volvo buyers are "much more" likely to buy a wagon because it fits an active lifestyle.
"We actually see in our research that our XC70, that's actually a car that's more likely to have bikes, skis and activity stuff than an SUV," Maloney said. "The SUVs are now more the family haulers."
In an unintended way, that's a bold statement. Time has shown, at least anecdotally, that Americans have rebelled against the cars of their parents. First, we bucked against the station wagon. Now, we mock the minivan. Will children of the 1990s, as they begin their families, reject SUVs?
If they do, that would be a powerful new course for the market, one that could open the door for the station wagon's triumphant return.
We won't call them station wagons, of course. We already see this. The current Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen is marketed with more sport and less station. Same goes for the Acura TSX Sport Wagon and the Volvo's new V60, also branded a sport wagon.
"I don't know if that's conscious, but you call it any number of things," Maloney said. "I think when you look at this product and say what it is, the word that connotes it is that 'dynamism' is part of the 60 offer. So we landed on sport wagon."
The name can change. But thankfully, in the Volvo and others, the soul will stay the same.
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