Station wagons are as old as the car industry. They were created as working vehicles to transport goods. Throughout the years they became the perfect mobility solution for families who wanted the comfort of a saloon but with more cargo room. They first gained traction in North America, and soon in Europe. Today, you can barely see one on the roads, except for Europe.
The fate of wagons, or estates in the UK, or break in France, started to change when the first minivans or MPVs were introduced. This is how the enthusiasm faded in the US market, and actually never took off in most of the Asian markets. Nevertheless, Europe continues to be a safe haven, even if they clearly lost their appeal to the very popular SUVs.
Almost 2 in 3 of the wagons sold are in Europe
Although their sales volume dropped by 20% in 2021 compared to the previous year, the demand in Europe is by far the world’s highest for the wagons. The volume there represented 64% of the global sales, with a bit more than 1 million units over a global total of 1.6 million.
In fact, Europe is the market where wagons recorded their highest market share within passenger car sales. Last year, they counted for 8.3% of the volume in Europe. Not bad considering the strong competition from SUVs.
The rest of the world bought 574,000 wagons last year, up by 4%. Sales in USA and Canada totalled 183,000 units, down by 4%. The third largest market was Russia and the former Soviet republics with 140,000 units, up by 4%. The traditional Lada wagons are still a valid choice for many consumers in this region, up to the point that it was the second largest by market share, at 7.1%.
Japan-Korea was the fourth largest market, and interestingly China came fifth with just 107,000 units, up by 34%. Even though the demand soared compared to 2020, wagons are not an appealing product for most of the consumers there. This is why the segment is more or less condemned. Without China, it is hard to see future developments.
A matter of perception
The public perception towards wagons changes according to the market. For instance, you barely see them in the streets of Latin America, and it is because the people there associate them with hearses or funeral coaches. They are simply uncool cars to drive.
In contrast, they are considered cool cars in markets like Italy. Consumers there barely consider a saloon but still position the wagon as real family sporty cars that are both useful and cool. It is pretty much the case in Germany too.
Further north, the wagons have a real family-capability conception in countries like Sweden and Norway. They are considered the ideal vehicle for the tough winter conditions. Volvo and the late Saab are two good examples of popular wagons.
In USA, their situation changed dramatically after the arrival of the minivans. The latter are bigger, more spacious and feature a higher driving position, just as SUVs. Today, the consumers can chose from less than 10 choices.
The author of the article, Felipe Munoz, is an Automotive Industry Specialist at JATO Dynamics.