A return to the glory days of the family station wagon?
For most people 40 years and younger, the term “station wagon” is from such a bygone era that it may as well be “stage coach.” However, that may be changing.
The likes of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW, Volvo, Audi, Subaru and Volkswagen are making a strong push in a U.S. station wagon market that has all but evaporated since the glory days of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In that era seemingly every other vehicle on the road was one of those wood-paneled beauties with rear-facing back seats (known as the “way, way back”) and plenty of room in which a nuclear family of six to eight could tour the country.
America’s love affair with station wagons
Advertising would typically show the happiest families on Earth rolling through mountain ranges, past Mt. Rushmore or Niagara Falls, or strategically parked at a beach or within sight of an amusement park. Station wagons were the dream vehicles of the day and they could take a Brady Bunch-type family anywhere they wanted to go.
Ah, but the wagon’s days were numbered when automobile designers in Detroit came up with mini-vans, SUVs and crossovers. Suddenly, the Griswolds of America weren’t traveling to Wally World the same way they once did. They were going in style. People preferred vehicles with greater headroom and storage capacity and liked the idea of not having to strap luggage on the roof.
Now, overseas automakers are betting that some Americans are bored with mini-vans, SUVs and crossovers. They’re seeing a renewed demand for station wagons, perhaps not to the extreme of 40 to 60 years ago, but enough that production is being stepped up to meet anticipated growth. At present, Ford Motor Company sells as many or more pickup trucks in a single month than the entire U.S. auto industry sells station wagons in a year. So it would appear there’s nowhere to go but up for the moribund vehicle line.
Interestingly, overseas automakers are targeting a higher-end market in America, with one industry spokesperson dubbing their prime buyer as “the millionaire next door.” Car and Driver gives thumbs up to most new models and shows that price tags for this new generation of wagons can easily top $50,000, with some soaring beyond six figures.
Car companies believe men represent their primary market for new station wagons, dispelling any notion that they be relegated to the vehicle of choice for soccer moms. The new designs are much sportier than the old days and cater as much or more to image, highly engineered workmanship and performance as they do functionality.
Is there a station wagon in your future? If there is, you can rest assured, it will not be your parents’ or grandparents’ version. It will be something quite different.