Sport Wagon - Declining Popularity in North America

Declining Popularity in North America

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Since the 1970s, sales of station wagons in the United States and Canada dropped for several reasons. The 1973 oil crisis was a turning point against the "traditional classic American station wagon—with its acres of fake woodgrain siding, sticky vinyl bench seats and lazy-revving V-8 engine", which have been described as "wallowing land arks".

In 1984 the Chrysler Corporation introduced the first minivans derived from the K platform. While the K platform was also used for the Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries station wagon models, the minivan would soon eclipse them in popularity. Since minivans and SUVs are classified as light trucks under US CAFE standards, manufacturers had a strong incentive to market those vehicles over station wagons, which are classified as cars. Station wagons have remained popular in Europe and other locations whose emissions and efficiency regulations do not distinguish between cars and light trucks.

The emergence and popularity of sport utility vehicles which closely approximate the traditional wagon bodystyle was a further blow. After struggling sales, the Chevrolet Caprice and the Buick Roadmaster, the last American full size wagons, were discontinued in 1996. The Ford Taurus wagon was discontinued after the 2005 model year. The Dodge Magnum was marketed during the 2005–2008 model years.

Since then, smaller wagons have been sold in the U.S. as less expensive alternatives to SUVs and minivans. Domestic wagons also remained in the Ford, Mercury, and Saturn lines until 2004 when the bodies began a phase-out, replaced by car-based crossover SUVs and minivans designed to look like station wagons.

The last subcompact station wagon produced in the United States and Canada was the 1992 Toyota Corolla. Compact station wagons have been declining since the 2000s. Ford dropped the Ford Focus wagon for 2008, and Subaru replaced the Impreza wagon with a 5-door hatchback model. Volvo announced that they will withdraw their compact station wagon, the V50, from the U.S market by 2012 due to poor sales figures. In Europe the V50 remains popular.

European luxury carmakers such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz still offered wagons in their North American lineup, using the labels "Avant", "Touring", and "Estate" instead of wagon. However, these wagons had fewer trim and powertrain levels than their sedan counterparts, for instance the wagon styles of high-performance trims such as the BMW M5, Audi RS6, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG were never imported to North America. The Mercedes-Benz W204 C-Class wagon was not offered in the United States and Canada unlike the previous generation. The BMW 5 Series Touring was dropped from BMW's North American lineup after the conclusion of the E60 generation, due to slow sales in the United States with only 400 wagons sold in 2009. Due to the popularity of SUVs in North America, these European manufacturers have been supplanting their wagons with car-based crossovers such as the BMW Sports Activity Series, the Audi Q5, and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, these offer a wider range of options and engines than wagons.

However, the Cadillac CTS gave rise to its wagon counterpart, the 2010 CTS Sportwagon. Unlike European luxury wagons sold in North America, the CTS Sportwagon has almost as many trim levels as its sedan counterpart.

Although station wagons have declined in North America, they offer several advantages over car-based crossovers. Wagons offer cargo space without compromising driving dynamics or radically increasing weight. The high fuel prices in Europe and Japan have led to nearly half of all production vehicles being wagons, and a similar result is expected for the United States. This trend is already being seen with an increase in wagons being sold in the United States. Cadillac's 2009 CTS Sport Wagon, Acura's 2011 TSX Sport Wagon, and Lexus’ CT200h Hybrid wagon are examples of this increased proliferation.

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